Winter, Freeze Us
In a season of bikinis and flip-flops, we want snow
by M.L. Faunce
Winter finally dawned in late January. The horizon, stacked with hues of slate grey, rose and aqua, is layered as thinly as a Lady Baltimore cake. A winter sky at last, I think, as temperatures dip to the norm.
But what is the norm and how do we measure it? Depends on where and the expectations of whom, of course. Now global warming adds its cachet. In our mid-Atlantic region, this period was the warmest on record. The warmest ever.
In my neck of the woods, winter is signaled by the arrival of tundra swans that migrate here from the Arctic around Thanksgiving. This year, the flock on my creek is diminutive. Perplexed enough by the tepid weather, they compete for food with droves of descending resident Canada geese.
Quince blooms in my yard, cherry blossoms parade their petals around the Tidal Basin in nearby Washington. In plant hardiness zones, oh, the times they are a-changin’. We’ve moved a whole zone warmer. The crape myrtle that spill like summer fountains in Chesapeake gardens are no longer on the northern edge of survival. That’s because Maryland has shifted from a cooler Zone 6 (average low temperature of -10 to zero degrees) to a warmer Zone 7 (average low of zero to 10 degrees), according to the Arbor Foundation’s just-released Hardiness Zone Map for the country, updated from the United States Department of Agriculture’s 1990 map.
Amid more sober subjects in print news and on the air these last two months, headlines blared: Record Temperatures, El Niño, The year without a winter, No Ice Fishing, Please.
Up north, polar bears are said to want for ice, with floes too few and too skimpy to support their hefty weight. Used to a rich diet of seal, they are bereft as their hunting grounds melt into seas.
Across the globe, our Russian friends gripe and groan for what’s missing in their lives, the deep annual freeze that justifies an antidote they pronounce wodka, the antifreeze that takes the edge off of endless northern nights.
The winter norm for my Hawaii-based family, now newly minted Virginians, used to be picnics on the beach. Six-year-old niece Savannah has only seen snow once: That white winter arrived by dump trucks. Intent on giving their kids a white Christmas for once, U.S. Marines at Kaneohe Bay shoveled it into a small mountain.
Here, Savannah dreams of snowflakes on her tongue and eye lashes, as new snow boots from L.L. Bean stay boxed.
On her January birthday, a day that peaked at 73 degrees up from the more typical 43-degree weather she left home clad only in a polka-dot bikini to greet kindergarten friends at her swimming pool party.
The winter of our content, a winter of flip-flops and shorts and outdoor BBQs may be over.
I for one am happy to see the return of the norm, of a winter sky with stars at night and a kaleidoscope of color by day. A little snow wouldn’t hurt.
Think of the polar bears and a family from Hawaii. The crape myrtle will be fine.
This marks the 12th year prize-winning writer M.L. Faunce has contributed to Bay Weekly.