Not deferential enough: It's cold

Posted Friday, January 24, 2014 in Opinion

Not deferential enough: It's cold

Arctic sea smoke on Penobscot Bay

by Gina Hamilton

These are the times that try men's souls ... and women's too, I see you smile.  These are the nights of the dripping faucets all over the house in a vain attempt to keep the pipes from freezing.  These are the mornings of squeaky snow, carrying a second waterer and bearing a pan full of warm oatmeal to gladden the little chickeny hearts that flocked together to beat the winter night's chill.  These are the days when one is tired, not because one stayed up too late reading a good book or watching a movie, but because one set an alarm for 2 a.m. to relight the wood stoves and stayed up to make sure they caught.

This is winter in Maine, and this year, and even by our standards, it's a particularly brutal one.

Maine's winters set us apart from the rest of the lower 48.  On Maine farms and in households all over the state, we haven't really ever heard of a polar vortex before this.  It's just what normally happens in the winter.  The jet stream dips down and encompasses our state every year.  We don't make a fuss over it.  Then before you know it, it's mud season and it's almost time for potato planting.

But the cold does something to Mainers that doesn't happen in other places.  We retreat, a bit.  We do what we have to do, for sure, but between Christmas and the first day of spring, we don't go out of our way to do more than that.  Consider it a mini hibernation, a cocoon of our own making, out of which we'll emerge with the sun in the spring. 

And these very cold days, these polar vortex days? Well, later we'll say, "Oh, aye, it was a bit chilly, that week.  Pipes like to froze twice.  Hens stopped laying.  Brought the battery in overnight, I did."

But in the midst of it, we just do what we have to do.  Because that's Maine.  The children get on the bus to go to school.  We put the battery back in the truck and go to work.  We thaw the pipes and pick up the frozen eggs and use what we can and compost what we can't.

And we cook, and clean, and dry our clothes on the solar dryer that's a permanent fixture near one of the wood stoves, and we plan our spring gardens and order our seeds.  Winter is a time of hibernation, but it's also a time of expectation.  In the cold, frozen ground, Mainers can hear the young apple trees stretching out their roots.  We can feel that the grapes are itching to unfurl their fan-like leaves to the sun.  We can tap our maples and save our sap and make ourselves a real treat come the end of February.

In the cold, we have spring beating in our hearts.  In the midst of the death of the year, we are planning new life.

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