- Over the next two weeks or so, Huntington experiences changes in population and usage patterns. Schools have their week-long winter break, whole families head south for sun or north for snow and the town, if not quite deserted, briefly seems less crowded. Many elders who have endured the season fortified by knowledge of reward are leaving for longer periods somewhere warm, hoping to come back to mild noons and blooming flowers.
- Weather for the next month is always fickle in the extreme. Intense storms and cold may be followed by days of furiously thawing warmth. During such warmth, there may be crocuses blooming. Then, perhaps, more snow. But, unlike the mood in early January or late December, such inconstancy is easy to endure, if only because we know it is inconstant and will change soon, and always toward the better.
- Having grown up in antediluvian days, I never experienced a winter break other than an occasional few days off from school. There were neither time nor finances available to go away somewhere. Nor, for that matter, many places to go nor inexpensive ways to get there. Somehow, throughout our working lives we never acquired the habit.
- No regrets and no resentments. There were compensations, and now I am at a point where I can ignore slippery streets and stay home rather than fight my way to an office. Times have changed, but I have probably changed, at least psychologically, a lot less than I sometimes think.
- True naturalists are fascinated by winter patterns. Even the most common animals must somehow survive cold, famine, storm, and snow. All birds cannot find outdoor feeders. Squirrels have fur, but with insulation potential hardly matching that of people. What do deer, raccoons, and mice eat? And what is going on with all the various insects and bacteria we cannot see? Not to mention the various and wonderful adaptations of the plant kingdom.
- Winter world is in some ways more marvelous than summer. It is easy to imagine active competition and synergy among organisms in a thriving environment, each growing furiously, acquiring nutrients and other necessities as quickly as possible. A race to be best, or, in cliché, active survival of the fittest. But winter is even more of a test, and yet mostly invisible to me as a casual onlooker. Some organisms _ perhaps ranged too far on global warming _ will die during a cold snap. Others will not find food under a foot of snow. An odd, but rewarding, viewpoint for me to ponder as I await warming spring.
- All work and no play …
- All play and no work can become boring, so we tend to invent chores.
- My children only laugh when I claim Joan and I are taking a break of some kind. To them, retirement is one long break, day after day, as we do nothing while they scurry about in their busy lives hemmed in by constant obligations. Mostly they are correct.
- From our own perspective, work and things to do have somehow accumulated enough to usually fill our days. We have slowed a bit, and can do a little less than once upon a time, but for the most part these are actually golden years, and we can take hours to do as we wish or nothing at all. In a lot of ways, it is a perfect way of life, and I am privileged to be enjoying it.
- Since distant vacations require commitment and fairly large amounts of money, we have lately been deciding each year if we wish to overwinter. A gamblers bet. Will it be harsh or mild? This year, for various reasons, we decided to stay north and take our chances. At first, predictions were for one of the worst seasons ever, filled with storm and freeze. Then reality happened.
- So, at least most of the time, it has been pleasant. Our breaks occur on sunny temperate days, or in going to stores or other indoor attractions. We have not been stuck at home more than a few days, never too many days in a row. These months have represented their own kind of change, when I could spend more time thinking and reading without the call of rushing outdoors or to some park.
- Would I have enjoyed such a time when I was young and full of hormones and energy? Probably not. Back then, breaks were essential times to recharge and relax, but only in relation to doing so many things that were required, necessary, and, on reflection, accomplishments to be proud of.
- Waves crash ceaselessly on shore, wind erases all sounds of civilization near and far. Voices of crowds are forgotten, automobiles are banished, the hurry of things to do fades forgotten in the brisk cold. Shells line the high water mark, in astonishing numbers. Flocks of gulls parade about in compete ownership of this territory, which they will have to yield in a few months to equivalent flocks of humans. Winter’s open beach border, cleared of snow by brine and tide, is a wonderful place.
- Many other people know this, of course, and I share this afternoon with several. Most remain in their cars, simply happy to enjoy the view without the pain of severe wind chill. Fortunately, I have dressed or overdressed quite well, and can sit on a bench not isolated from touch and smell and sound. We are all a unique brotherho
od, privileged to have the time to be here on a prime weekday afternoon, and with the aesthetic longing to leave comfortable interiors and busy bazaars to experience a bit of the immense wider world.
“So, Snow,” begins Pavement one sunny frigid morning, “What you been doing? Haven’t seen much of you the last few months.”
“Been a tough year, very hard. You guys had the drought to begin with, you know, that lingered through the late fall. Then Cold Air got caught up somewhere up North. So until this week, just couldn’t get around to doing much here.”
“I see your cousin West Rain is kicking up a storm in California. At least he’s kept busy.”
“Oh, yeah, and Sister Betty has them cursing all over Europe. I thought about helping out, but just ended up visiting friends in Canada and Maine. At least it’s still pretty normal up there.”
“Well, good show this week, anyway. You planning to stick around a while?”
“Pretty tough with Sun doing his thing more and more,” replies Snow. “Might get in one more big performance, but no guarantees. Like I said, been a tough year.”
“Not the same as the old days, for sure,” agrees Pavement.
“Nope. Why I remember years when …”
“Changing times, changing climes, maybe gone for good,” Pavement interrupts.
“Hope not, but you may be right. As I said, tough times. Maybe catch you later, gotta melt now.”
“Au revoir, amigo”