Tropical vacations get quite popular this time of year in New England.
But commentator and storyteller Willem Lange thinks there are so many
delightful little things to keep us occupied that just being here is a
(Lange) To many people, especially the elderly, winter
in northern New England stretches out to a horizon too distant even to
think about. In the old days, legend has it, the old folks were taken
outside during the first long cold snap, laid down in watering troughs,
and frozen into blocks of ice. In the spring, they were brought inside
and thawed out, with no apparent ill effects. They were given some hot
porridge and brought up to date on the news. Nowadays, those who can
manage it, go south. Those of us who can’t are left to contemplate the
hundreds of little things that make up our winter.
One of these
is walking on snow and ice. I noticed once, years ago, that the Inuit in
the airport terminal in Montreal all walked with a little shuffling
step, even on dry granite floors. My buddy Dudley had spent years living
in the Far North. "Try to imagine how you’d walk," he said, "if you
spent almost all your life on ice or hard snow wearing mukluks with
soles like carpet slippers. You’d shuffle, too." He’s right. And
watching people downtown after a winter storm, you can see right away
why penguins walk the way they do.
We go to bed after dark and
get up before dawn. The air in the house is as dry as in the Sahara.
When we handle our clothes in the dark, they sparkle with dozens of tiny
I put out corn for the wild turkeys that
pass through the yard every day or two. But the first to find it were a
flock of mallards. We’re surrounded by tall pines and spruces, and
there’s no open water nearby. How can ducks, flying through the trees at
forty miles an hour, spot a couple of handfuls of corn that’ve sunk
into the snow?
The Old Farmer’s Almanac keeps me up to date. It
kills me to lay down seven bucks for it; but I can check the locations
of the winter constellations, the phase of the moon, and the return of
the sun. By mid-January we’ve gained only about half an hour. But then
things begin to pick up, and by mid-February we’re up almost two hours.
coldest days are also our sunniest days. This once made less difference
than it does now, because traditional New England houses were – as an
architect friend of mine called them – boxes with little holes poked in
them. But we’ve gotten smarter, and windows a lot better. We built our
house with the living room facing solar south and a whole wall of
windows. To sit in my recliner with the sun upon my neck and shoulders,
working on a crossword puzzle till I doze and my pen traces a long,
erratic line across the page, is perhaps one of the greatest joys of a
northern winter. Why would anybody want to live near the equator where
every day is much the same? What would there be to look forward to?
This is Willem Lange in Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.