Themes of Island winters
Every season seems to have its theme, its particular weather pattern that gives us the topic when we stand around the water cooler or sit around the dinner table and talk about the weather.
When I first moved to Martha's Vineyard year-round in 1995, my first winter's theme was an abundance of snow, huge amounts. At one point there was so much snow that when I shoveled it to the side of my driveway it logged in at about six feet, one foot higher than my compact car. When I'd cleared enough space for my car, it felt as if I was parking in a snow canyon.
This was also the winter that I began to discover the meaning of community on Martha's Vineyard. One icy morning I skidded into a snow bank on Middle Road in Chilmark. It was February, and Chilmark was empty during the winter. With no cell phone (yes, this was a time before ubiquitous cell phones), I wondered how I'd get out. But it was just a couple of minutes before a kind Chilmark resident driving a small bobcat tractor stopped and proceeded to pull me out of the snow bank.
Two minutes later I was on my way. When I offered payment he waved my offer away and chugged off. I was astonished. I'd come here from a place where people just didn't do those kinds of things. But I learned.
Two or three years ago we had another "huge amounts of snow" season. That was the year that broke the plow while it was being used to clear my driveway - but not before its driver created a six-foot snow mountain, effectively blocking any possibility of getting to my house some 200 feet away.
It was eight o'clock at night. I had just come back from a week off-Island with luggage and a three-legged dog in my car. I would have to tunnel through some drifts to get home. So instead, I called a friend and drove to her house for a cup of tea, which fortified me for the tunneling. Eventually I did get to my home, but without the tea and community I'm not sure when I would have made it.
The words I'd use for this winter season's theme are "bone-chilling cold." It's the kind of cold that makes you cautious about taking a deep breath, since you'd have to defrost your lungs afterward. After a few minutes in this weather, I have a constant yearning for hot tea, hot chocolate, hot water, thinking it might warm me up. I'm not sure it would do the job when the temperature is 12 degrees (2 degrees with wind chill).
Last week, I joined two women for our annual dinner to celebrate our continuing friendship. The streets of Oak Bluffs were white with that odd coating that appears when it's really, really cold. But talking about the evolution of our lives and our now 13-year connection brought warm feelings and tears to all our eyes. While hot chocolate might not warm you up in this kind of cold weather, friendship will. And I found there's no better place than Martha's Vineyard to warm you up that way.
We're not that far from spring now, even if the groundhog has seen his shadow. And after the winter we've had I am really looking forward to what the spring and summer season theme will be (though I'm not sure I can imagine that "unbelievably hot" or "humid" even exist right now). But in the meantime I'll live out this season's theme - with a little help from my Island friends.
Niki Patton is a freelance writer who lives in West Tisbury.