The big winter Nor’easter that briefly shut down New York City and New England and gave CNN anchors something to hyperventilate about for three solid days this week made me nostalgic for our old place — and snowy winters in Maine.
Our former house sits in a beautiful forest of hemlock and white spire birch four miles west of the coastal town of Brunswick, not far from the house LL Bean built. Over the two decades we lived there, I can recall more than a dozen blizzards of this scale that most Mainers simply shrugged off with a smile before tossing a new log on the fire.
A most memorable one happened 26 years ago this week when my daughter was born on the night of a great winter Nor’easter. Her mama and I were living in a rented house on Bailey Island in Casco Bay while we built our post and beam in the hills home west of town. The night Mugs appeared, almost two feet of snow fell. That following afternoon my folks made a surprise appearance, having bravely followed the storm up the East Coast in order to meet our firstborn personally.
Back on the island, our road was so snowed-in we were forced to park at the village post office and general store and trudge through thigh-deep snow to the steep slope above our back porch. The only smart thing to do from that point was sit down and take a brief toboggan ride down the hill on our rear-ends, which I did holding my new baby daughter.
Both my parents — who by the way would have turned 95 and 100 years old respectively in the past week, January babies like their grandchild — thought it was an absolute blast to be snowbound, just the thing to welcome the family’s newest winter baby. The lights of Portland, 30 miles away over Casco Bay that evening, were spectacular. My mom made her famous red flannel chili. My dad brought me a very good bottle of seriously aged port, which we opened and drank by a roaring fire.
Nature’s Imposed Silence
I think that’s what I miss most not having those deep, cold snowy winters in Maine — the way a blizzard stops time and stills the world and makes you appreciate the smallest things of life: a good cup of hot tea or a good fire and the fellowship of those around you.
I used to love trudging out in the heart of a Maine blizzard to shovel our front walk before the snow-plow guy came roaring up and buried the front of our house beneath a mountain of plowed snow. I also relished shouldering a bag of sorghum and hauling it out to the back of the property where we fed a small family of white tail deer through the harshest days of midwinter.
Nature’s imposed silence on a busy world shut down by snow is a lovely, unplanned mental holiday from schedules and deadlines. When my kids were sprouts and snagged a day off from school owing to a blizzard, we typically declared a snow holiday and went snow-tubing with chums, pounding down hot chocolate by the gallon.
As a rule, Mainers take blizzards in stride — welcome them, in fact. Big snow days are simply part of life in the far North Country, nature’s way of providing extra insulation from the cold winds of midwinter. If you wish to see a really unhappy Mainer, visit the Pine Tree state during a snowless winter. “No snow up he-uh just ain’t natural,” as my neighbor Peggy used to say.
Which is why it was so amusing this week to take in the media’s hyperbolic coverage of a typical winter storm they early on labeled “historic” and “the storm of the century,” filling the airwaves with enough dire warnings to snow under even Buffalo.
One of my favorite moments of this Great White Hype was watching CNN’s Don Lemon circulate through the largely empty streets of Manhattan in — and I’m not making this up — the CNN “Blizzardmobile,” dithering on about how the giant storm was “pounding New York City” even though no falling snow was visible though his windshield, going on to give “other” world news.
Not to be outdone in the ratings, there was the anchor from a competing network doing a brave live shot from the heart of the “hysteric” blizzard from my favorite street on Portland’s historic district, swaddled up like he was on an Arctic expedition, describing how the “massive blizzard has shut down everything in sight. Nothing is moving anywhere!” just as a pair of intrepid Mainers appeared behind him on their cross-country skis, clearly enjoying themselves. “May I ask you folks why you are out?” our incredulous man-on-the-scene shouted at the duo, poking his microphone in their faces. “Sure,” replied the smiling woman in her adorable LL Bean toboggan. “This is winter in Maine. We love a good snowstorm. Beautiful, isn’t it?’
I miss that.
Snow Bowled Over
With my team the Patriots playing in another Super Bowl today, I’m happily reminded of another memorable blizzard my young son Jack and I stood through in the stands on the last night old Foxboro Stadium was in business. We were with a Maine buddy and his young son, Andrew. The date was January 20, 2001, the night of the famous “Snow Bowl” play-off game where the Patriots upset the heavily favored Oakland Raiders with an overtime field goal to win the AFC Divisional Championship and go on to their first NFL Super Bowl title.
We stood up the entire game, stamping our feet to keep warm, fortified by nips of hot chocolate and stronger stuff, enjoying the festive crowd of hearty New Englanders, some of whom stripped down to bare skin for kicks, unable see roughly half of the action on the field owing to the blowing snow — including what happened on the famous play where Tom Brady’s arm was struck and he apparently fumbled the ball during a last-minute drive to try and tie the game.
A review showed his arm was actually moving forward — the infamous “tuck” rule the NFL had recently imposed — and the Patriots got a second chance. Kicker Adam Vinatieri booted a 40 yard field goal we couldn’t even see clear the uprights from our spot mid-field and 60,000 diehard Patriot fans went nuts. Tears of joy and more clothes were shed.
Ten minutes later a second field goal sealed the game. The Pats would go on to win the AFC Championship a week later, then beat the heavily favored St Louis Rams 20-17 on a last-second field goal by Vinatieri to claim their first Super Bowl title.
Time Thaws All Feet
Bracketing the hysteric winter storm, whenever Wolf Blitzer and company weren’t sounding like medieval soothsayers predicting a snowstorm that would obliterate New York and New England — for the record, it wound up being merely the 4th largest snowfall in Boston history, a good but not historic Yankee nor’easter — he continued flogging the ludicrous “Deflate-Gate” story like the Scandal of the Century.
As a veteran sportswriter friend who is no fan of the Patriots reminded me, the poor whiny Indianapolis Colts used their own ball and still managed to get whipped by nearly 40 points. A commentator for Forbes magazine called “Deflate-Gate” the “Dumbest sports controversy ever,” pointing out there’s nothing new about any of this. “Will someone please let the air out of this idiotic story before they ruin what could be the best Super Bowl ever?” added a respected blogger for Sports Illustrated.
I hope and expect it will be a great game, hopefully won by the margin of a field goal.
My only wish is that a sudden freak snowstorm would descend on Arizona, where a championship football game has no business ever being played. The half-time show ought to be an elderly cowboy band singing Gene Autry songs.
If you want real drama and excitement, I say, hold the game outdoors in some capital of the American Heartland or Yankee Rust Belt — Soldier Field or Buffalo or even resurgent Cleveland. Find out quickly who the real football fans are. Talk about a potential ratings bonanza: Hail Marys and Snow Bombs galore! Bring out Don Lemon and his Blizzardmobile! Wolf will lose his mind.
Naturally, my Yankee wife and I will be watching with friends who have never experienced the glory of a true Maine blizzard, with only me really pining away for snow banked up to the windows and a roaring fire going, fondly recalling snow bombs from my New England past.
She loves Sandhills winters and doesn’t miss those massive storms in the least, reminding me that our decision to sell our house in Maine came after I drove for 20 straight hours in an eerily similar Nor’easter like the one we had this week, arrived on our hill to find three new feet of snow and foolishly attempted to “rake” our roof at the height of the storm, alone and in dark forest, promptly burying myself to my chin.
At that moment, I confess, I’d had enough of January blizzards.
But time heals all wounds — or thaws all feet, as my old neighbor Peggy liked say.
I say go Pats! And please let it snow here, too.