I don’t know about you folks, but early last week I said to heck with a white Christmas. I was dreaming of a dry Christmas.
I’d made it through the first full week in December, adjusting nicely to life inside my own little snow globe. I’d learned first-hand where the seasonal boundary in the local saying “down the mountain” started. I found it on Route 17, a couple miles off the Height of Land, where the Subaru thermostat registered a balmy 38 as it navigated onto bare, dry pavement for the first time in over a week. I knew, of course, these lakes and mountains generated their own weather pattern that outsmarted most AccuWeather technology. I was still uninitiated, though, about how soon after Thanksgiving I would find myself living just over the arctic side of the Great Divide.
And the Big Lake, it turns out, has its own set of wintery rules not covered in any physical science class I ever took. It doesn’t just “freeze over” sometime in the middle of the first cold spell like I used to picture before I moved here fulltime. “Well, the lake must be frozen over,” I’d declare from the obscurity of my living room overlooking the flatlands of southern New Hampshire. Thirty-two degrees…snap…time to freeze over….I imagined the lake just laying there still, waiting for spring when I was ready to return and see it moving again. I now understand that, for my beloved body of water, changing from liquid to solid is a dynamic, fickle process not governed by calendars or thermometers.
“Look!” Tom ordered the other day after we’d been blanketed in snow for a couple of weeks but could still hear crashing waves when we ventured outside. I was in my PJs enroute to my morning DecemBear duties when he attempted to get me to focus. Without my glasses and my first cup of coffee, he could have been pointing out anything—from the neighborhood moose in my front yard to Bono at my breakfast bar. (Although the moose was more likely and I wasn’t dressed for the occasion, I secretly hoped for the Bono scenario.) “The lake finally froze last night!” Tom explained as I squinted in wonder at the smooth sheet of ice that had miraculously appeared sometime in the middle of the night when neither of us was watching. Snowshoeing across to the island would still be a month away, but the lake was definitely frozen solid.
A couple mornings later, Tom woke me up with a new weather report and a different tone of excitement. “I really need your help,” he announced grimly. “We need to move everything off the basement floor. It’s flooded.” I wasn’t sure how dire our emergency was, but even without my glasses I could see there was no more snow coating the trees or piled up on the ground. And I was pretty sure that needing to put on waterproof pants and serious rain boots without ever leaving the house was not the start of a particularly good day.
As I outfitted myself for flood duty, I wondered where Mark Twain was when he quipped, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.” In Rangeley, during fall-winter, he wouldn’t have been joking. In a flash, I’d gone from hunkering down in the snow next to my frozen solid lake, to crouching next to my cellar steps, preparing to help salvage my possessions from the four inches of rain and melted snow that had surged through the foundation. I was peering at Tom hunkered down there, cussing and sighing and relaying orders, careful not to rap his six-foot high head on the five-foot low ceiling as he sloshed through the moving boxes we’d left down there until “sometime this winter.” They didn’t hold irreplaceable stuff, luckily, but tons of annoying little nicky-nacks that were too useful to throw away, but not treasured enough to go into safe storage upstairs. Plus CDs—hundreds of CDs and videos we were supposed to sort through “whenever.” As their cardboard containers turned to mush in the rising water, our priorities got shifted and our day was suddenly repurposed. But, before we could schlep everything up the stairs to dry it off, Tom first had to tackle the most important piece of inventory stored there: our brand new sump pump. Installing it had also been on his “sometime” list since the old one was removed and we turned our creepy dirt cellar into a spiffy storage space with new concrete floors that “never showed any sign of moisture.”
“I knew I should have put that damn pump in when the cabin was rebuilt,” Tom said. I silently agreed. And I made a note to myself that, whenever Mother Nature is involved, “should have’s” need to take on heightened urgency—especially when you live 20 miles from the hardware store selling the extra parts you need for whatever it is you should have installed in the summer. “That’s probably why nature is called a mother,” I mused as Tom drove off to the hardware store and I rummaged around for rag towels. “She knows you ignore ‘should have’ impulses and—despite contrary evidence and even a prediction from Mark Twain—act like you’re in command of your own timetable.” Kind of like when my mother used to say, “You should have done your homework when I told you. Now you’re stuck inside on the weekend when all your friends are out playing.” I blew her off, but she always got the last word. Kneeling on my dining room floor, swabbing down picture frames and sponging out CD cases, I felt like a child who didn’t take her earth mother seriously and was now being punished with a puddled-up, pumpless basement.
Fortunately, my remorse was short-lived. The flood was almost a week ago which, in Rangeley, means I’ve now had to pour all my energy back into the weather-related challenges of any given moment. As of this writing, the lake is frozen again. Still, too, is the sound of squeegee waves cresting in my cellar as the new pump is doing its job. And, lo and behold, the treetops and yard are glistening from a couple dumps of fresh snow! If I can find where I left my rag towels, I’ve got to hurry up and dry off my White Christmas CD.
Happy Holidays, everyone. Be merry!