We were stranded in a Boston hotel Sunday, but we made the best of it. The weather was the common topic of conversation among hotel guests and staff. The most common opening line was, What happened to global warming?
It was not tough duty, don't get me wrong, but traipsing around in the blizzard, looking for some place, any place, to shop was no picnic. And when we needed food, we could find only one restaurant open. Of course, there was room service.
Blizzards and wind chills have their charms, I suppose, but they are serious, worrisome, and expensive. Burst pipes, Chappy cut off, busted hips, auto crashes, kids home from school, compost piles in flames, building projects delayed, firewood too wet to burn: the list of calamities can be long. But, not this time. Since the snowstorm, temperatures have returned to the temperate levels we've enjoyed this winter. By the weekend, when cold weather returns, most of the snow will be gone.
E.B. White, writing in January of 1943 from Brooklin, Maine, knew a thing or two about winter and cold weather. "There has been more talk about the weather around here this year than common, but there has been more weather to talk about. For about a month now we have had solid cold - firm, business-like cold that stalked in and took charge of the countryside as a brisk housewife might take charge of someone else's kitchen in an emergency. Clean, hard, purposeful cold, unyielding and unremitting. Some days have been clear and cold, others have been stormy and cold. We have had cold with snow and cold without snow, windy cold and quiet cold, rough cold and indulgent peace-loving cold. But always cold."
Naturally enough, friends and neighbors like to reminisce about winter years ago. Apparently, abused as we are by ice and snow, winters were better, colder, icier, and more fun years ago. It may be true.
Recall iceboating on Squibnocket Pond. That was fun, no doubt about it. Frigid, but fun. For some reason, I particularly remember that Artie Whitworth was an outstanding designer of 60 mile an hour ice flyers, which were all the rage for the two or three weeks when there was hard ice to run them on and not too much snow on the ice. Artie spent countless hours on the design and construction, but that was okay, because the weather had about closed up the construction business.
There was no ice arena then. Skating on Uncle Seth's or Ice House or Parsonage ponds was a rare treat. It was best in the evening when the full moon bathed the sheared surface with pale light, and the crisp scrape of the skate blades was the only sound, although there may have been 50 people there.
Experts say that Seth's was an especially good place to skate because the surrounding high land and the woods sheltered the surface, and that provided for the formation of smooth ice. Today, the course sand the town has put by the side of the pond to form a wider beach often blows across the surface near shore, and it wrecks your edges.
There were winters in the mid-70s when Vineyard Haven harbor was solid with ice and folks walked out to their moored boats from Owen Park. Some even skated around them, though the ice was soft and slushy. Most of us kept a skiff handy as we walked.
In winter then, the Steamship Authority often had to ask the Coast Guard to send an icebreaker to open a lead for the Islander to take freight out to Nantucket. The old double-ender had the best shape for icebreaking, though it was an awful long trip, beginning in Woods Hole. Later, when the boatline began running to Nantucket from Hyannis, the quick formation of ice in Hyannis harbor made for frequent calls for icebreaker help.
We were all members of what E. B. White calls the "fraternity of the cold."
"Nobody is kept from joining. Even old people sitting by the fire belong, as the floor draft closes in around their ankles. The members get along well together: extreme cold when it first arrives seems to generate cheerfulness and sociability. For a few hours all life's dubious problems are dropped in favor of the clear and congenial task of keeping alive. It is rather soothing when existence is reduced to the level of a woodbox that needs filling, a chink that needs plugging, a rug that needs pushing against the door."
Still, circumscribed this way, the human spirit grows restless, and winter's magic, even in a lovely snowbound city, grows tiresome. Spring is what we want now.
Last week in this space, I wrote about editorial cartoons, including the wonderful examples of the art, as practiced by Karen MacKay, The Times web designer and cartoonist who died last summer. Carelessly, I misspelled her last name. Her husband Jack e-mailed me to alert me to the mistake. "A small matter, a correction I feel I should point out after reading your At Large column (nice job)," he wrote. "It's just that Karen's name is misspelled. It is of course MacKay, not McKay. I've been correcting people all of my life, and Karen was just learning how very often people got it wrong. She saw that MacKay was just as often put down wrong in print as her own MacDowell (not McDowell) had been. Oh well."
Happily, the occasion of this correction gives me the opportunity to take note of a way in which Karen's artistry lives on and continues to attract the admiration it deserves. Among The Times' 2005 New England Press Association Better Newspaper Contest entries, the editorial pages won first place for large weeklies. The judges praised several features of those pages, including a cartoon which Karen created. They called her cartoon "a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek cartoon portraying affordable (cemetery) lots in the region ..." Wonderful, indeed.