That snowstorm last week was unusually huge, especially for December.

Maine missed the main event. Binghamton, New York, where I spent parts of four snowy winters in the 1980s and then the 1990s, got 41 inches, its all-time record. Portland got 17 inches, and towns farther west like Hollis got upward of 2 feet, according to my long-distance correspondent Frank Allen in Waterboro. In Bangor and at our house in Troy, it put down only a few inches, although it snowed hard enough to seem like more.

The TV meteorologists were giddy because they love bad weather that causes nothing more than inconveniences. The evening of the storm, reporters and their camera crews were snooping around outside to see what was or wasn’t happening. On one residential Portland street, they came upon a guy jogging in the snowstorm.

The young reporter and newsroom anchor were delighted. A man jogging in a snowstorm!

“That is so Maine!” the news anchor said, laughing. “Yes, that is so Maine!” the reporter on scene agreed.

Their delight seemed to involve a splendid romantic view of Maine held by people from, let’s say, points south. Real Mainers are so tough and hardy in winter that they go jogging in blizzards!

I soon received a text from my brother Al, who lives in Gray and kills bugs for a living and was waiting in his kitchen for the whole mess to just end already.

“Did you see the TV news just now,” he said.

I knew where he was going with this. “The guy jogging in the snow?” I replied.

“Yeah.”

“‘So Maine,’” I typed.

“That’s not Maine,” he returned. “Maine is a guy looking out his window saying, ‘That guy’s an asshole.’”

The hugeness of that December storm might mean something about the climate, or it might not. There have of course been huge snowstorms in December before. There have been huge snowstorms in November, for that matter.

But Maine has changed in the past 50 years. Winter has changed. I arrive at these unofficial generalities on the evidence of personal experience and scientific information. For example, in 1970, I’m pretty sure it would have been nigh-on impossible for a television crew to find somebody jogging in a snowstorm. Probably snow-jogging did happen, because all the elements are the same — there are still snowstorms, ice, wind, cold and people from away who don’t understand winter very well — but it ain’t something “Mainers” much did. Too cold and wet to fool around outside like that to no practical purpose.

But also, the elements are various kinds of different from what they used to be. The snowstorms can be bigger, but snow itself scarcer. The ice is pretty ubiquitously thinner. Spring springs later. (See pre-storm Backyard Naturalist.) The cold is still cold.

But as old-timer Bob Nelson over in Clinton observed to me just prior to that big storm: “In the ancient days of my Maine experience (early 1980s), I remember stretches of three to four days when the nighttime lows were below minus 20, usually in late January or early February. I was quite sensitive to this, since it meant the fuel in my diesel VW truck turned to jello in the tank, and I got to walk to work. (I took a cab once, but the experience was like sitting in a closed-up giant ashtray … Walking was far more pleasurable, even when it was minus 24.) Haven’t seen those horrific cold stretches, that I can recall, in the past 20 years. But it’s only been in that time that, again in my recollection, we’ve had nighttime lows below zero in March. Going to be some kind of interesting to see what comes in the next 20 years.”

To me it looks like Maine winters are a sort of climatological barometer. Innocuous, for now, but inexorably warning of a coming storm.

It makes me uneasy, as I have said before. The pressure on a writer whose job is to complain about it is that winter’s main feature is that it’s almost featureless. It’s vast and blank, compared to summer and fall when plants, birds and all kinds of creatures and processes are an abundant source of astonishment, natural detail and beauty. In winter, snow and ice are everything. Words are, in some very real senses, all you’ve got to get you through the long December through February night.

That’s a ridiculous thing to say, of course. You can go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, skating (in rinks mostly, now), snowmobiling, ice fishing, trapping, you can watch TV, there’s usually some shoveling to do. You can pick out for yourself which of these might be described as so Maine. In the 1970s, the whole notion of who and what is a Mainer began, like the climate, to change. Not without a struggle.

I’m sure that guy jogging in the snowstorm was probably from Maine. But not the Mainer my brother is, who was 10 in 1970, or our enigmatic Grandfather Baker who founded Portland Glass Co. in the 1920s. He was a gruff old coot four generations along already from our ancestors in Boothbay when I knew him, and I think the chances of him ever “jogging” anywhere, let alone through snow, were exactly nil.

“Winter is changing,” Frank wrote from Waterboro this week. “The whole four seasons are changing. I even have a few good old boys saying that now.”

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at [email protected] His recent book is “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods” available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.


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