A Texan in New England

Today is my travel day to fly home to Texas and a warmer clime. I’ve spent nearly the last month in the cold northern regions of New England, and I survived all that Mother Nature threw at me and the good citizens of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York.

Downtown Keene, town square

Most of you are probably thinking the shock of sub-freezing temperatures and lots of the fluffy white stuff and occasional frozen sheets would have done me in, as they say. But I grew up playing in the cold winters of Chicago and briefly Boston, so while this old body has not been recently exposed to cold winters, it’s not an entirely new gig for me.

Cold is what I called the Christmas season in ’83 I spent outside of Fargo, North Dakota where the temperature dipped to 40 below zero during the day…and that’s not wind chill folks, that’s temperature. At that frigid number the rubber on tires freezes in place requiring very slow driving until the rubber warms up or the tires may shatter. At that frigid level you get outside survival times reported on the TV news as nonchalantly as we get allergy reports in South Texas. And at that frigid number you get frosted ice on windows and doorknobs…on the inside of the house…where it’s a toasty 75 degrees except for an inch or so away from said windows and doorknobs.

winter-icicles.jpgBut the cold I experienced in New Hampshire, et al, on this trip was still a shock and something my body had to adjust to so I could survive. Unfortunately there wasn’t much in the way of snowfall, but there were still a few days the snow stayed around long enough to treat me to a quintessential New England winter wonderland on the couple of drives we took through the countryside. And as I was reminded, it’s one thing to visit briefly and enjoy the front-end of winter, the “pretty” part without the back end when everyone gets stir-crazy from the long cold days and longer dark nights. By the time the spring slushes come the locals are more than ready to stop seeing snow and ice every time they venture outside.

winter-swing.jpgAs these pictures show, there’s little else that makes a scene photogenic than a little white snow that covers all sins and makes even the most mundane scene spectacular, especially if one’s winters are essentially forever brown. Simple geological elements such as seeping springs through blasted hillsides along roads become amazing displays of ice artistry. I snapped these pictures of the ice falls below along highway 12 during a light snowstorm, and through the excitement of framing different shots I lost track of how cold it was. Upon jumping back into the heated car, my fingers were like icicles. Note to self: find some of those gloves without fingertips if I’m going to run around outside in the cold snapping pictures.

winter-hydrant.jpgLiving with all the cold and snow and ice seems like an arduous task to anyone who normally resides in a warmer part of the country. New Englanders of course have not only been putting up with but surviving winter after winter since this country was first settled. The picture at right is a good example of adapting: the white-red banded sticks alert snow plow drivers to a fire hydrant’s presence (and no doubt the same for fireman if needed). Mention you’re from Texas to these hardy folks and they wonder out loud how you survive the heat, thinking that more difficult than their New England winters. Humans can adjust to most anything, and when I moved down from Chicago to Austin, Texas for college I remember initially agreeing that cold Chicago winters were easier to survive than the oppressive summer heat of Austin.

keene-sidewalks.jpgGiven a choice, I’d rather live where there’s winter for that means life moves through the different seasons and time is marked by the changes in nature. I’ve written before how I dearly miss living with seasons, and after tasting a bit of white winter this trip, that desire is even stronger. As I work this year towards become an independent writer, perhaps I’m coming closer to the day when I’ll be the one living in a winter wonderland, hosting visiting Texans, and quietly smiling when they ask how I can stand all the cold and snow. Until then, I’ll have to revisit my photo album from this year’s winter New England trip for my winter dreams.

Roadside ice wall from seepage

Close-up, roadside ice wall from seepage

It’s Not Fair

snow2.jpgI traveled north for the holidays in hopes of seeing more seasonal weather while holding on to that ever-wish for anyone who’s a kid at heart this time of year: a white Christmas.

When we got back from New York City on Tuesday there was plenty of the fluffy white stuff around. By Christmas eve all the white was washed away. The bad winter storm that dumped so much snow through the Midwest last week wimped out by the time it got up to New England and massive snow turned into a steady, cleansing rain.

The irony in all of this is that this year I left a south Texas destined for numerous record snowfalls on Christmas day or for most any winter day for that matter. Consider Victoria, Texas, a town further south than my home area of Houston: those lucky denizens got 10 inches of show, their first white Christmas since 1918. Even our beach-front city of Galveston was blessed with four inches of white Christmas. I, who bravely flew north into the cold much to the amazement of friends and family (“you’re supposed to fly south in the winter, doofus”), had to be content with a brown Christmas, my well-intentioned plans to be smack dab in the middle of snow country failing to yield the desired whiteness on Christmas day. Cold, you bet, got lots of that…snow, no way.

snow4.jpgAs I sit on the day after Christmas and write this in a warm and cozy coffee shop in downtown Keene, New Hampshire, it is of course snowing. Now. The day after. Pfft. Still, it’s nice, even if a day late. And I can take solace in the fact that for the next few weeks I’m still up here in New England my chances to play in snow are immensely better than if I was back in Houston. But still, to fly all this way just to have the weather Gods play the Texas white Christmas trick on me is just plain mean, not to mention unfair! I’m still not through pouting about my misfortune so if you’ll excuse me I’m going outside to make a snow angel or maybe throw a snowball at someone I shouldn’t. Maybe that will help me forget.