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The Slow Thaw Of A New England Spring

After the sustained adrenaline rush of a long, hard winter, embracing the gentler pace of spring, while keeping the shovel out, just in case.  (Mo/flickr)
After the sustained adrenaline rush of a long, hard winter, embracing the gentler pace of spring, while keeping the shovel out, just in case. (Mo/flickr)
This article is more than 6 years old.

It’s now April, but the snow in our back garden is still waist-deep. Here in Gloucester, I see fishermen readying their boats and gear for a new season: stacking lobster traps along the wharves and scraping and painting their vessels. And, alas, I notice the appearance of mud and potholes — all signs of spring. But something is missing.

I am no longer rushing to the market to make sure we have enough milk and eggs, candles and batteries — in case the next storm knocks out the power — oh, and to buy more snowmelt and an extra shovel, should this replacement one also break.

Having lived in New England much of my life, I’m wary about putting away the snow shovels, snowmelt and ice-chopper. But I’ve unearthed my gardening gloves and pruning shears.

Nor am I leaping out of bed each morning, adrenalin rushing as I brush my teeth, don snow pants, sweater, hooded parka over pajamas, then climb into boots and head downstairs to try the kitchen door. More often than not, I would find it sealed fast by snow. I’d gulp down yesterday’s coffee, and, with help from my husband, force open the front door. Shovels in hand, we’d begin the ritual: Clear the front steps as the neighbors across the street run their snow blower and those next door shovel. We’d exchange nods, the occasional groan, ask, “Where are we going to put it all?” All while eyeing property lines to make sure that shoveled snow lands where it ought to go.

Then, the rush to the railroad station, if I had to be in Boston. I'd hope for a seat before the rush-hour train became standing room only by the time we reached Salem.

Winter was once the quiet season, or so I’d remembered: a time for reading and reflection, letter writing, baking bread, stirring thick soups and curling up by the fire with that long novel I meant to read. This winter, I never cracked "War and Peace." Nor did I take out my cross-country skis.

We were all so frenzied by the massive (and historic) back-to-back snowstorms, so anxious about a next assault, and so worried about our houses and families and jobs (and parking), not to mention the ice dams and ensuing leaky roofs.

(LadyDragonflyCC/flickr)
(LadyDragonflyCC/flickr)

Our frenzy was fed not just by the quantity and relentlessness of the storms, but by the anxiety (and exhaustion) they engendered. And the fact that there was no one to blame. We could vent at this or that neighbor or at the plowing crews or the T (as some did), but everyone was doing the best they could. Even global climate change couldn’t explain why we were targeted in Eastern Massachusetts and had to rely on Vermont to lend us their snow removal equipment. Had I been raised in the faith of my ancestors, I’d have waved my black plastic shovel at Yahweh. My longtime Buddhist practice brought little solace. Being mindful in eight feet of snow only takes you so far.

Lately, however, an unusual quiet appears to have descended, not suddenly, as it might when we’re snowed in during a normal winter, but stealthily, without our even noticing it. In fact, what’s noticeable is not what’s present, but what's not: the stress.

Neighbors and friends have been emerging, tentatively, rather like bears from hibernation, as if nervous (and uncertain) about what will come next. I find myself stopping to chat at the post office, in the library, on the street. I pause to observe snowdrops arising from a patch of icy snow, the fattening buds on the lilacs, the calls of the first redwings in the marsh.

Having lived in New England much of my life, I’m wary about putting away the snow shovels, snowmelt and ice-chopper. But I’ve unearthed my gardening gloves and pruning shears. This morning, clearing the garden of debris that has surfaced at the edges of melting snow, I noticed that I was no longer bracing myself against the cold. I stood up, stretched, and inhaled the sea air, finally feeling the peace and quiet I’d missed all winter.

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Susan Pollack Cognoscenti contributor
Susan Pollack is an award-winning journalist and author of the "Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Cookbook: Stories and Recipes." She is working on a book of personal essays.

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