After harsh winter, spring's arrival will be that much sweeter
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It's winter in Pennsylvania and the gentle breezes blow
Seventy miles an hour at twenty-five below.
Oh, how I love Pennsylvania when the snow's up to your butt,
You take a breath of winter and your nose gets frozen shut.
Yes, the weather here is wonderful so I guess I'll hang around,
I could never leave Pennsylvania 'cause I'm frozen to the ground!

-- A teacher in Johnstown, Pa.

A childhood friend from western Pennsylvania sent me this poem last week. Interestingly, he isn't having the kind of winter I remember from my first 20 years of life; but we are, here in eastern Massachusetts.

Weathermen call it "the Great Lakes effect," the cold and snow flowing down from, in my hometown's case, Lake Erie. Since it all seemed normal to us, I don't recall anyone talking about weather much; instead I remember specific things, like:

Hearing for the first time since December the clicking sound of my shoes on bare sidewalks in April.

The occasional nosebleeds after walking to school.

When it was really cold my dad would drive me: I recall my parents apologizing one day that I walked because they didn't realize it was 18 degrees below zero. That's an actual temperature; I never heard the phrase "wind-chill factor" till I moved here.

Carefully picking my way over lumpily frozen sidewalks on the way home from school, trying not to fall; then doing homework, inhaling supper, and running out the door and down the hill to the neighborhood skating pond. If the owner had cleared the ice after the latest snowfall, he'd turn on the outdoor lights so the neighborhood kids would know the pond was ours. We skated almost every evening, through February. By March it was getting old and the ice a tad slushy; we were ready for tennis and baseball.

Shivering in the car waiting for the heater to work.

Eventually I learned that if you just relax into the cold instead of fighting it, you stop shivering. This became an important lesson in dealing with other kinds of physical or even emotional discomfort, an early version of "mindfulness."

Back then, like now, everyone tuned in to the Groundhog Day event on Feb. 2, Punxsutawney being just about 60 miles down the road. But the way my friends and I remember it, there would be six more weeks of winter if Phil did not see his shadow, and spring was coming soon if he did.

This makes sense, since the reason he doesn't see his shadow is that he can't get out of his den because two months' worth of snow is piled in the opening; and even if he does get out, it's cloudy, and snowing again. But for some reason folks nowadays have it backwards.

I think the original Germans got it backwards too, though. Of course, over in Europe, they were using a badger or a bear for prognosticating, and weren't disturbing its sleep to hold it up to the cameras if they knew what was good for them.

Anyhow, last week the mild-mannered Pennsylvania groundhog did not see his shadow, which I still assume means six more weeks of winter and which is at least two fewer weeks than I recall from my childhood, regardless of what Phil saw or didn't see. It's probably then going to take another six weeks of sunshine for the piles of snow to disappear.

Meanwhile, there Chip was, wearing the safety harness he uses for single-handed ocean sailing, with the attached rope tied around the bedpost in my upstairs guest bedroom, climbing out the window last weekend to attack a three-foot ice jam in the far corner of the porch roof. My job was to feed out the rope and take pictures, which can be seen on his website, in his winter journal [click here to see].

Much of the ice jam is still there, but he cleared the shingles around it so that, theoretically, melting snow will run off the roof.

I'm not too worried; I don't remember my dad climbing up on our slanted roof to release ice dams. I don't think I've ever seen one before.

The one I have now does make me wonder about "global warming," however. Does melting Arctic ice put more moisture in the air that is falling here and settling on my porch roof? (Though, oddly, not on my old friends' roofs below Lake Erie, at least not this year.)

Another thing I remember from the past: My mother saying, "It's too cold to snow." Would there be less new snow in an Ice Age, when the old snow just never gets around to melting? Maybe the entire climate-change thing is somehow connected to groundhogs, and their confusion about whether they should go looking for their shadows or not.

So I'm not going to worry about any of this. I'd be happy if the town trash collectors would just put my trash-can lid in or alongside the empty barrel, instead of tossing it into the middle of the yard, where I can't reach it till some local groundhog someday sees his shadow in the warm, spring, Massachusetts sun.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.

More of Barbara's Columns

Citizens for Limited Taxation    PO Box 1147    Marblehead, MA 01945    508-915-3665