Until I moved to Maine in 2008, when I was 31-years old, I had never seen more than a few inches of snow, and then, only when on vacation. I had a lot to learn, like: Why would anyone rake anything off their roof (“It looks so pretty with snow on it!”), and why don’t people in the North use ice in their drinks (they just put the glass of soda in the snow for a few minutes)?
But the biggest thing I had to learn was that for people who deal with winter — and in particular, snow — on a yearly basis, the weather is something like a competitor. And it’s a worthy one at that.
“It’s coming,” my new neighbors told me that September, when the temperature dropped and we still hadn’t unpacked our moving boxes.
“When the leaves all fall off the trees,” one of them said, “you’ll know. It’s out there.”
I was terrified.
I grew up, and still frequent, a part of the country where Man has largely dominated nature. In the heart of Washington, D.C., for instance, everything that your eye can behold was made by Man. The buildings, the monuments, the sidewalks, the Metro and even the Mall, with its cherry trees, were all built, planted or planned by men. And outside of a few minor earthquakes and hurricanes that have usually petered out by the time they get that far inland, Man keeps nature at bay. The rare “snowpocalypse” that Mother Nature throws in for fun, and which temporarily shuts down the city, is an anomaly; something to scratch your head at and then carry on as soon as the millions of cars heat up the roadways.
It’s easy to understand why humans in D.C. walk so briskly and confidently. They are the ruling class there.
And so one of the first things I noticed in Maine was the respect, bordering on amused fear, that people have for the weather. After all these hundreds of years, Man is still fighting the elements up here. And for me, that’s what made me fall in love with the North.
The process is truly fascinating. Just like my neighbor said, when the leaves all drop, you know it’s time. Mother Nature is about to release her dogs in the form of bitter cold and piles of snow. And we humans have not yet really figured out how to manage that. We go out each morning with our plastic shovels and four-wheel drive and think we are at least winning a battle, even as we know we will surely lose the war.
Winter, it seems, is the sibling we playfully (or not) battle each holiday, but we still hope he will return for another round next year. Which is why everyone seemed to be losing their mind when winter made its presence a little later than normal this year.
“Christmas with green grass?” we asked. “Is that all you’ve got, Winter?”
Walking without ice grippers on our shoes in late-December? And I thought I knew you, Winter.
We were like the dog who gets a little anxious and naughty when he thinks he has the run of the house. Because, honestly, he likes a little authority and control. I mean, he doesn’t know how you’re bringing home that kibble each night, right? He needs you!
And we needed winter. We were alone in the mansion and our reflector poles along the driveway seemed to be mocking us. The salt waiting in the garage just seemed a little sad. And we put on our coats, dressing for the fight. But our opponent never showed.
You see, when you live in a place like Washington, D.C., you can believe Man is invincible. There is nothing that a little asphalt and electricity can’t take care of to keep Man’s world going. Even in winter.
But in Maine, we — okay, maybe it’s just me — relish the yearly reminder that we may inhabit this world, but we don’t rule it. When snow piles against your front door or traps your car in the garage, and you can’t get to work or to the mall, you are reminded that maybe things like working, money and shopping aren’t the real reasons we are here.
So the kids sled with their grandfather or take the dog running through the drifts. Moms and dads play boardgames. Brothers and sisters make forts in their bedroom. And the rest of the man-made world can wait.
In a sense, I fell in love with Maine that first winter because even as we were snowed in and our roof was leaking, I felt alive and small at the same time. And I welcome that familiar reminder every time the first flakes fall.
No, we will not win this war. So we might as well enjoy the fight.