How’s the weather


Stairway window

Every year, I complain about the February doldrums. February in New England is an interminable month, with gray and dreary days adding to the long slog of winter. When March finally comes, it feels like an accomplishment: another month weathered, another step closer to someday-spring.

Right now, both my students and I are counting the days until Spring Break. Although I’m not planning to go anywhere, I’m looking forward to a week off from teaching: a chance to sleep in, catch up with my paper-piles, and reset before the last half of the semester.

Last year, Spring Break was canceled due to COVID: colleges deemed it too risky to allow students to travel, so we pushed our way through an entire semester without rest or refreshment. Even now, a full year later, I haven’t forgiven whoever thought it was a good idea to plow our way through Spring 2021 without a chance to catch our breath.

Pandemic teaching has been an exhausting roller coaster ride, and last year we needed a break more than ever. I’m glad that this year, students and faculty alike are getting the break we so urgently need.


What season is it?

There comes a time every not-quite-spring when I feel a surge of almost certainty: a feeling that says if I’ve survived winter this long, I just might survive the rest.

This feeling typically comes on a day like today when the sun is mostly out, there are still impassable stretches of ice underfoot, and the forecast calls for snow. It’s not over, the forecast says…but it will be over eventually, my soul whispers.

This year the pandemic feels like another interminable winter. We know we aren’t out of the woods yet, but… Even as the weather forecast calls for snow, we look at the calendar and the lengthening days and repeat our February mantra, “Every day without snow is a day closer to No More Snow.”

Right now, every day without a positive COVID diagnosis feels like a day closer to Lots Less COVID. (Four weeks into my fourth semester of in-person pandemic teaching, I still say the best day of the week is whatever day my negative PCR test results come back.)

We know that COVID, like New England snowstorms, isn’t going away for good…but the thing that gets us through another long winter is the knowledge that it won’t always be this way. Someday, eventually, we’ll wear sandals and short-sleeves again, and someday, eventually, we’ll return to dining outside or in and mingling with or without masks.

I can learn to weather COVID surges, going to ground when cases are high and venturing out when cases decline. I can learn to weather a threat that is cyclic if not seasonable, our lives divided into social time and stay-at-home times.

On days like today, I can feel it in my bones: we just might survive.


Turkey tracks in snow

Friday was a sleety, stay-at-home day, and yesterday I cleared a crust of snow and freezing rain from our cars early in the day so they would bake clean in the sun. Yesterday, the unshoveled sidewalks in our neighborhood–all the sidewalks, since you can’t shovel freezing rain–were crunchy with a topping of snow over ice, which gave good traction underfoot. This morning, though, even the snow has frozen slick, and we’re expecting rain and temperatures above freezing–melting weather–tomorrow into the week, which will turn everything into a slippery slop.

Welcome to not-quite Spring in Massachusetts.

I’ve lived in New England for three decades now–most of my adult life–and for all that time I’ve said New England doesn’t have a proper spring. Instead, we go straight from snow to mud to heat, without the weeks of temperate weather and wildflowers the Midwest gets in March. In New England, March comes in like a lion then stays, the threat of spring snowstorms lurking into April.

But climate change is affecting this: we get as much rain as snow these days, along with an abundance of bare frozen ground. Last weekend’s storm dumped more than a foot of snow on our backyard: only the second plowable snowfall of the season, and the first accumulation to stay a while.

This coming week’s temperatures in the 40s with rain aren’t quite Spring, but they certainly aren’t winter, either. Sunlight is the cleanest way to melt snow, shrinking it steadily into the dry air. Rain melts snow, too, but in a way that turns streets, sidewalks, and backyards into puddles by day and skating rinks by night.


Girl and her dog

Today was the winter’s first BPC Day: a day so cold, I wore my Big Puffy Coat.

I’ve lived in New England long enough, I have a closet full of winter coats. There’s the green fleece jacket I wear when the temperature is in the 40s and 50s, the pink jacket I wear when the temperature is in the 30s, the mid-length brown coat I wear when the temperature is in the 20s, and the Mother of All Coats: a purple, full-length down coat I wear when the temperature is in the teens, single digits, and below.

My Big Puffy Coat is as warm and cumbersome as a down comforter: imagine walking around swaddled in all your bedding. It has a hood, which I typically wear over a knit beret: on BPC Days, it takes a hat and a hood to stay warm.

If I zip my BPC all the way up, I don’t need a scarf, as the collar covers my throat and chin…and since my BPC has deep, fleece-lined pockets, I can get away with wearing thin knit gloves instead of thick Bernie mittens.

It was 8 degrees when I walked Roxy this morning, but tomorrow the temperature is supposed to rise to the mid-30s, and on Thursday we’ll enjoy a 40-degree thaw.

This means I’ll repeatedly swap one coat for another over the next few days: not only do I have a closet full of winter coats, each one has a hat in the sleeve and a pair of gloves and a roll of dog-poop bags in the pockets. It’s important to be prepared for whatever weather any given dog-walk brings.


Unmasked

I’ve lived in New England for decades, but there are two things that will never seem natural to me: how early it gets dark here in winter, and the lack of a proper spring.

Since the time change, it’s dark when I walk Roxy after dinner. She has a light on her collar, and I carry a flashlight, but we are regularly startled by other walkers who dress in somber colors and don’t carry a light, their forms materializing out of the darkness like solid ghosts.

Tonight, it started drizzling just as Roxy and I set out, and after we turned toward home, forked branches of lightning lit the sky, followed by rumbling thunder. Since when, I wondered, do we have thunderstorms in November?

As we approached the house, a flock of roosting turkeys gobbled en masse from the trees across the street, as unsettled by the thunder as I was. You never know what surprises lurk on suburban streets after dark.


Stumped

Today is gray and rainy, which I don’t mind since the leaves are still aglow with November fire. The wind is rattling the windows, and I’m happy to be inside at my desk with a mug of tea, writing.

Free

This morning when I walked Roxy, there was a red upholstered chair on the curb outside a house down the street, its arms worn and torn, but its color reassuringly autumnal. The scent of damp, fallen leaves was ripe in the air, and Roxy insisted on sniffing every decaying pile.


Turning oak

November sunlight is my favorite kind. It angles low through gold and copper leaves, gleaming like light refracted through stained glass.

As the days shorten, November sunlight is precious. The days of December through March are dreary in New England: either too dark or too glaring. November light is bronze and burnished. Knowing what comes next, I soak in as much sunlight as possible, storing it in my heart like a battery against dark days to come.


Bejeweled

Today has been a soft day: drizzly with temperatures in the 50s, a welcome respite from this week’s heat wave. I’ve had the windows open and the fan on all day to keep the air inside from stagnating, and the mist has been light enough I didn’t need an umbrella to walk the dog, just a ballcap and raincoat.

Soft days are good for reading, journaling, and letter-writing, which is exactly what I did today. After you come in from a drizzly dog walk, you’re content to settle in with a book, notebook, and cup of tea. Sunny days are perfect for extroverts who need to Go Places and Do Things, but soft days are perfect for introverts who don’t mind staying home with a stack of books and a pile of letters to write.

Fallen

It’s been a weird autumn. Right before Halloween, we had a storm that dumped five inches of snow, and this week, we’ve had a string of 70-degree days. The Japanese maple in our front yard went straight from reddish to brown: we won’t have a red-letter day this year when one corner of our yard ignites in fiery red glory. And today, the trees in our backyard cast off their leaves en masse: just like that, there is a crunchy, ankle-deep blanket of oak, cherry, and Norway maple leaves underfoot, many of the latter still partly green.

February gray

It’s the fourth week of the semester, and we are deep in the throes of February gray. Whenever I check my email, there is another message from a student who is sick and can’t come to class. I have papers to grade but pause to dissolve an Airborne tablet in my water bottle, a blithely optimistic attempt to stop a sore and scratchy throat from developing into a full-blown cold, or worse.

Hummingbird window clings

It sorta-snowed overnight, so we awoke to a thin layer of sleet and sludgy slush that is more mess than menace. Schools don’t cancel classes for sorta-snow, and they don’t cancel classes for the winter blues that arise from February gray. Instead, we trudge on, cheering ourselves with whatever winter coping strategies we’ve learned will get us through.

My office at Framingham State has three windows, including one right next to my desk, and I’ve decorated that one with colorful hummingbird decals. These window clings are designed to stop birds from flying into reflective surfaces, but I put them there as an act of faith: a reminder that February gray will someday, eventually, turn into the colorful flutter of spring.

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