Winter’s first snows are enthusiastically embraced, as fresh-faced whiteness hides the chilly decay of autumn and brightens the dark nights of December, radiating seasonal joy and warmth. But, like someone else’s irritating child that doesn’t know when to stop, it is eventually just tolerated with a grudging acceptance. The irritation persists and is ignored or repressed but, as with most things left to fester, it will eventually come out and it probably won’t be pretty.
The murder rate in colder, darker, northern states spikes a bit in February and there are those who think the early March timing of Town Meeting Day is no coincidence. Those rooms full of grumpy people certainly do provide entertainment when it is sorely needed but they may also serve as a communal valve for letting off steam. If nothing else, Town Meeting is at least something to do, and if the maple sap has started running we’ll have something new to talk about.
Folks talk about going “stir crazy” or having the “mopes” and they talk about Seasonal Affect Disorder and the benefits of full-spectrum lighting. They change their diets and their habits, hoping to feel better and, at the end of their 8-12 week course of treatment, the snow is melting and the red-winged blackbirds are back in the pussy-willows! Funny how that works with so many things – just when you’re sure you can stand no more, you’re done.
Like the first apple harvest I worked, which felt like it would never end even though I knew it must. I was about to shout, “No more apples! Ever!” and really mean it this time, but when I looked around I saw that, after seven hard weeks, there were no more apples.
Or the morning on Savage Island, when we were up to our eyeballs in little lambs and I just wanted it to stop, that I resolved to go to the barn and scream at the last few ewes who hadn’t yet given birth, “HAVE YOUR BABIES! NOW!” I didn’t scream at the sheep but they did all eventually have their lambs and I got to take a nap.
I stock up, bracing for the isolation to come, hoarding combustibles, comestibles and fiery potations of rum and other hard liquors (for medicinal purposes, you know), dashing out for more when time and weather permit but it gets old after a while, waiting for winter to end. This season’s cribbage tournament stands tied at 435 games apiece, providing a pleasantly amusing diversion, but the recent skirmish with the local beaver population, while certainly a diversion, was neither amusing nor pleasant.
“Why, Quill? Why?” they cry. “Why do you put yourself through it? Why do you spend your winters in cold places? You must get Cabin Fever!”
I’ve always preferred the term “Shack Nasties” as it seems so much more descriptive to me but I am outside for at least a part of every day so I don’t think it quite fits. I feel a sort of longing, an unfulfilled desire of sorts, but not for something unattainable. This desire will be fulfilled. All the signs are there. Twigs on the dogwoods below the house are turning red while the birches show purple, the big willow has taken on a golden cast and the buds on the crab apple out back have begun to swell. The sun makes it up over the top of the barn now and the African Violets on the window sill have burst into color. Winter is almost over and it feels good to know I’ve almost made it, even if that sounds a bit like saying that I hit my thumb with a hammer because it would feel so good when it stopped hurting.
Bring on the mud and the blackflies.