What is winter, anyway? Winter in Jamaica is not winter in Maine, and winter in New Zealand is something else entirely. Even winter in Maine changes with every year. It can be cold. It is usually cold. There is snow, skating, ice fishing, and skiing. It can provide a recharge and refresh from soft, indolent summer days. It can have invigorating temperatures that make the hair in your nostrils freeze when you inhale. I do love that, the frozen hairs filter the air I breathe, this cold air fills my lungs, and only then do I actually sense my lungs, which otherwise are unobtrusively keeping me alive.
This year, winter was redefined. There was little snow, not much cold. I kept waiting for the winter I love, but it never came. Now this new alien winter is leaving, and I have to stop looking over my shoulder waiting for three feet of white powder and howling winds and frozen expanses of water where I can spend hours exploring. It is not going to happen.
But, it was still winter. The solstice came, days got short, and now they are getting longer. I confess to a bit of bewilderment. It is time to look ahead to the return of green, warmth, and the heavy lethargy of hot summer days, but we never had a deep freeze. My blood is craving a stasis of cold before the melting, rushing, dancing dizzying wildness we call spring fever. It is not going to happen.
I trot up trails in short boots that last year required snowshoes and caution. I photograph polypores and lichen growing on the sides of trees because I am not distracted by snowdrifts. I have to stop waiting for the winter I love, and love the winter I am with. But it is too late. The melt is here.
Water drops rhythmically fall from branch ends, moving water hisses over rocks, air bubbles trapped beneath a thin veneer of ice gurgle their way down rock ledges.
Ice patterns form and disappear, surfaces of water freeze and melt. On shaded corners of the mountains ice coats tree branches and cling to rocks. This is so different from other winters. There is little snow, no safe ice for ice houses, and forget snowshoeing after work. I adjust my eyes and see ice, and am enthralled.
The patterns vary. They are crystalline and spiky, or curvaceous and reminiscent of topo maps. This is a new winter for me–what I was given, not what I wanted. But the complex ice art has me seeking trails with streams, and hiking around ponds and lakes. The fungi growing up the sides of trees feels new, too, and I want to learn what the thumbnails sized green discs are, and the creamy pillowing mushrooms going in a curving line up a slim birch. I am mesmerized by these shapes and designs that dominate this year’s winter. But then I hear it.
Drip. And drip. My new world is melting, Maine is melting.
I am not quite ready, but winter is gone. Happy spring.