A person heads south on the Kennebec River Rail Trail in Augusta on Dec. 8. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

The fourth of December was covered with snow, and so was the driveway from rock brook to dooryard.

Still beautiful, after all these years. But different. Very different.

It’s hard to tell if plowable snow in early December is normal, average, unusual or anomalous now.

The mad rainstorm that wiped out our power for days last week, however, would have been a shocking anomaly 25 years ago. But it doesn’t seem misplaced now.

Two big maple trees crashed across Dana Wilde’s driveway in Troy during the destructive storm of December 2023. Photo by Dana Wilde

I think what you expect out of December depends on how many winters you’ve actually spent, start to finish, in Maine.

I calculate I’ve had 60 full winters here. My first two years of life do not count because we lived in Massachusetts. When I was 3 we moved back to Portland, where my mother had been born and grew up. Soon we landed on Chebeague Island, where for my first two Maine winters I played beside a wood stove in the kitchen. We then shuffled back to the mainland, and the other 58 happened in greater Portland, Waldo County and once in Orono.


My eight winters outside Maine and Massachusetts were in Bulgaria, China and Binghamton, New York. In Bulgaria there was not much snow, comparatively, but it got cold enough to produce friction with landlords stingy about coal. In Shanghai, puddles froze over in January, but it didn’t snow. In Xiamen, Jack and I spent Christmas afternoon walking a beach in low-angled, 72-degree sunlight.

In Binghamton one night in the early 1990s, a blizzard dropped 19 inches of snow. As snowfalls went in those days, that constituted snowpocalypse. Thirty years of accelerating climate change later, though, Binghamton has seen much worse more often.

In my younger days I loved winter. At a couple of points in the 1960s there was so much snow that my sister, brother and I were able to climb onto the roof of our ranch house and jump off into the drifts.

This love of harsh winter went on for a surprisingly long time, to tell you the truth. I vividly remember a frozen-slush evening in the winter of 1976 that against all common sense I thoroughly enjoyed. I had driven through a mushy, greasy snowfall into Portland to pick up my mother who worked at a law firm on Exchange Street. I parked in her spot in the Pearl Street parking lot. At the light at Pearl and Middle, cars were spinning their tires trying to get up that meager grade. I spent about an hour hopping from the sidewalk, bracing myself against rear fenders, and lifting and pushing cars to get them going through the snow and ice. A couple other young guys joined me.

It’s hard to imagine that the same guy who pushed stuck cars for the exhilaration of it is the same guy who was sitting by his window a few weeks ago watching snow collect on the car and wishing it was June.

The U.S. Climate Data website informs me the average snowfall in Augusta for November is 4 inches; for December, 14 inches. These are the averages for the past 30 years. I think if you take the long view, you feel like an average of 4 inches of snow in November seems somewhere between conservative and absurd. I remember sizable snowstorms occurring more than once in November, including early November, during the 1960s.


But that’s me averaging out my memory of 60 Novembers, not the last 30. I don’t have the weather facts handy from the linear dimension of that timeline. But there is a pretty clear nonlinear progression that begins with hoping it will snow in October, then morphs into hoping it will snow by Christmas, to not really caring if it snows by Christmas, to hoping it doesn’t snow until January, all the way up to a fantasy that maybe it won’t snow at all this winter so I won’t have to dig. Let alone push cars out of snowbanks.

A recent news story cataloged the fact that the number of extreme rain or snow events in the Northeast has increased by 62% over the last 64 years. The state climatologist estimates the number of 2- and 3-inch rain days — anomalous events in the 1900s, if I remember right — is increasing fast in Maine.

This is happening because the Earth is warming, resulting in permanently disrupted weather patterns. We’re in the early stages of predicted tendencies for northern latitudes to be hit by more, larger precipitation events, and for the southerly latitudes to be hit with more drought. Here around the northeastern 44th, 45th parallels, we are in the borderland of those changes, where anything can happen. And is. The last two years of tree-crushing, wipeout rainstorms have hit around Christmas.

In this bewildering scenario, summer is longer, winter is warmer, and storms are huger.

For a while in my late 20s, I lived in an unheated room in an apartment in Portland. I vividly remember not really minding it. In fact, I liked it. I used an arctic-camping sleeping bag for bedcovers, wore a knit hat to keep my head warm, and in the morning ran upstairs to the wood stove-heated kitchen for coffee.

It was like fencing with the elements and winning. Like my long-lost friend Dan Solie, who told me he loved living in Fairbanks, Alaska, because he could go out on his back porch and look into wilderness unobstructed all the way to the pole. In his younger days he came within a few inches of falling clean off Denali to his death, but that was a different kind of fencing with the elements.


It was all so long ago. The backwoods seemed dreamlike on account of that frosting of snow early this month. But not because of the anticipation of snow fields and Christmas.

It’s because I have trouble keeping warm, now. I’m sorry to let the wilderness purists (which I approximated in my youth) know this, but that first snow inspired in me resignation to inevitabilities. It’s all gonna fade. I think this is normal, I’m not sure.

But I wish it was June. Full-blown, dazzling, blue-sky, 9 p.m. daylight June when Bonnie and I went camping on Prince Edward Island and made up unreal words for real songs. And it was warm the whole time.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at dwilde.naturalist@gmail.com. His book “Winter: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods” is available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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