Old Time New England Winter

A little evening snow in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, on a far gentler night than tonight. Photo by Jeff Stevens.

A little evening snow in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, on a far gentler night than tonight. Photo by Jeff Stevens.

I live in a historic part of a historic New England town: East Greenwich, Rhode Island, to be precise.

It’s tough to walk five minutes in any direction here without running across a cemetery or two with graves from two or three centuries back. The cemeteries range in size from 20 plots to 2,000.

Our part of town is known as the Hill. You can see it in the picture I chose for the blog today. In fact, the church spire in the background of the photo is the one belonging to our family church, St. Luke’s Episcopal. The open space in the right foreground is Academy Field, where sledding, baseball, soccer, and dog exercising manage to share time and space with admirable ease throughout the year.

In last weekend’s blizzard, the town got covered by pretty much exactly two feet of snow, which had the effect of turning it, for a time, into another town entirely. Street corners, after the endless plowing, were piled so deep in the white stuff that it looked unreal somehow, as though trapdoors had been opened at strategic spots in the clouds. The reality of the event took days to process.

By contrast, the storm that clipped us last night was less than generous in terms of what it left us. Although it is hard to know exactly, so powdery was what fell, and so strong the wind that blew,  I will say that we received between 4 and 5 inches.

Intriguingly, though, the taste of winter from the more recent event is stronger than what the blizzard gave.  The storm, like last week’s, wound up offshore so intensely that an eye formed, and the wind that has blown all day has covered the once-cleanly plowed streets with snow for a second time.

Walking my dog just now under the black trees and the cold stars and the sliver of frozen  moon, the wind sent up puff after puff of snow, some of it local, but some of it, inevitably, from fields, farms, and homes to our west. It’s that kind of night, and that kind of wind, when a thin spray of snow is in the air all the time and gusts spill ground snow onto the streets in feathered gobs.

The temperature is 20 degrees, but when the wind gusts, the assault of cold on skin, flesh, and bones is what crazy kids from California like myself yearn for: Arctic fury, old time winter, here and now.

The neighborhood is quiet, apart from the loud gusts of wind whooshing by. Not a lot of people consider it prime walking weather, and of course I understand. That said, I am noticing a curious thing in modern New England. So little time do people spend outdoors that they barely notice when an old-timey winter takes place right outside their door. They rush to and from their cars, dressed for temperatures 40 degrees warmer than what is actually occurring, shiver for a few minutes until the heat takes the chill off in their vehicles, and then rush from the car to wherever they’re going on the other end.

Sure, there are people who sled and ski and skate and run and walk in winter. But, increasingly, they are exceptions to the rule. The mass of humanity here that retreats from the elements has gotten so insulated from nature, and from the glory of a night like tonight, for instance, that they can be led by the nose when it comes to weather and climate. Whole world’s burning up? Must be, it says so right here. Plus, didn’t I see a video of a glacier melting, or something? Winter’s a thing of the past? Must be, I don’t even need a jacket anymore. And so on.

Do I find it a little depressing to hear people talk of global warming, knowing that they’re really talking about the growing wedge between themselves and the natural world, in all too many cases?

Yes, I do. Don’t sell your coat.

About Harold Ambler

I am a lifelong environmentalist. I started my journalism career at The New Yorker, where I worked as a copy editor. Since then, my own work has appeared in The New York Daily News, The National Review Online, The Atlantic Wire, The Huffington Post, The Berkeley Daily Planet, The Providence Journal, Brown Alumni Monthly, The Narragansett Times, Rhode Island Monthly, and Providence Business News.
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8 Responses to Old Time New England Winter

  1. My daughter lives in New Hampshire so I follow New England weather pretty closely. It seems to me that it’s been pretty cold there this winter. She won’t be selling her coat any time soon!
    I have to admit I’m one of those who stays bundled up inside, although I did venture out today. It was 55 degrees in Kansas City. Not bad really, because there wasn’t any wind. Thanks for posting.

  2. Lou says:

    Thank you for the beautiful picture: it reminded me of my youth in upstate NY, near Albany, where winter really meant Winter, and we “kids” of all ages would be out in it often.
    It also reminded me of a wonderful book, Time and Again, by Jack Finley, about a man who travels back in time to NYC, and one of the descriptions is of people sleighing in Central Park.

    • Harold Ambler says:

      Thank you for the fine compliment! Finney’s book changed my life as much or more than any other book. And here’s a hilarious thing for you (or at least I seem to think it is): I never finished the book. Nothing after the successful passage back in time compared to everything that preceded it. I keep threatening to finish it, even looked for it on Kindle but don’t think it was ever issued in that format.

      • Lou says:

        ..don’t be wary of finishing this book, it is anticlimactic, of course, but it is pretty good, and perhaps what I would have done, in his place. Just Don’t Read the book that continues the story ! v. disappointing. Regards !

  3. Richard Keen says:

    Yep, lots of people – including overpaid scientists – prefer the compute generated virtual world to the amazing real world outside. The immortal worlds of John Mitchell, Chief Scientist UK Met Office & IPCC, sum up how complete their departure of Walden Pond has been: “People underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful.” I’ve been a weather observer for 50+ years, and doing my daily summary is highlight of each and every day. I’ve leaned a lot more about the weather from observing and tracking the daily weather maps than I have from any college class I’ve taken (or taught). Or, in the words of one much wiser than John Mitchell, “You can observe a lot by just watching” (Yogi Berra). Meanwhile, these virtual unrealists who squabble over a few tenths of a degree probably haven’t touched a thermometer since the last time they bent down at their doctor’s office.
    And then there’s the dark night sky, always an inspiring wonder, but that’s a longer story.
    I loved your essay and I bet you love walking around your beautiful little chunk of paradise.

  4. SandyS says:

    I grew up in rural Scotland; Perthshire in a house without mains services no electricity, water from a spring, lpg for downstairs liighting and cooking, paraffin lamps and candles upstairs etc. The nearest village was 4 (imperial) miles away. Winters were hard work, staying warm; sawing and chopping wood by hand; and digging snow so school taxi could turn round. But cycling home on a clear moonlight night was a magical experience; especially when the northern lights were putting on a display. These days children are driven everywhere in airconditioned cars and live in centrally heated houses and have little experience of the cold winters the UK has experienced in the last few years.

    These “scientists” who never go out or even look out of the window are unfortunately fooling not only themselves but a large par of the population with their global warming / climate change scare mongering.

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