Down East 2013 ©
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a weatherman. This was after I wanted to be a caped crusader, but before I wanted to be a Jedi Knight. In my child’s imagination, meteorologists (or “sun and moon men,” as I called them) exerted a sort of supernatural control over the weather. They didn’t just predict rain or snow, they actually conjured precipitation out of the atmosphere through wizardry. As such, those smiling men with blow-dried hair were demigods of great power and not to be trifled with.
I think everyone who’s grown up in Maine has a reflexive habit of saying, “You know, it used to snow a lot more when I was a child.” We peer back into the past and see a glacial landscape with chimneys poking out of the snowdrifts. Remember that storm when Dad had to shovel a tunnel out to the garage? I do, too, although I’m fairly certain it never happened.
Maine weather seems to lend itself to hyperbole and outrageous humor. We all know Mark Twain’s chestnut, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.” But I prefer essayist Franklin Burroughs’ description: “It is arbitrary, precipitate, and emphatic, less certain than a baby’s bottom.”
Today we have computer models to track approaching low-pressure systems and fifteen-day forecasts updated hourly on the Web. But as Gregory A. Zielinski observes in “Let It Snow” (page 52), meteorologists still get regularly bamboozled by Mother Nature. That light dusting of snow decides it doesn’t want to drift out to sea after all; instead it dumps a foot of slush on the roads just in time for your evening commute.
Over the past couple of years, Maine has seen a return of winters past. Suddenly kids in Aroostook County are sledding off their roofs again, and ski resorts are actually turning a profit. Last year, the folks in Bethel built the world’s tallest snow woman, measuring more than 122 feet tall, and weighing in at 13,000,000 pounds. They dubbed her Olympia SnowWoman. The name seems prophetic in hindsight given the monumental role our senior senator is playing in the current health-care debate.
Zielinski sums up what it means to survive during the coldweather months: “People in Maine must be prepared for anything.” Spend enough winters here, and you might just start believing that Jack Frost is real and is masquerading as a weatherman on Channel 6.