Winter arrived with a bit of a vengeance this weekend. There was not much snow, but it was a heavy snow and with winds gusting over 20 miles per hour trees and limbs fell over the roads and power lines leaving many without electricity.
In the midst of this, before the end of dinner service on Saturday, Marcia headed home to Hunts Pond with Potter. Barely 30 minutes later I looked-up from the cooking line and there was Potter again, sniffing his way across the floor on his way back through the kitchen.
“Trees and wires down just before our driveway,” Marcia reported. “We’re staying at the Inn tonight.”
That put me immediately on edge. I don’t like leaving my house alone in crisis, which comes from when I was a boy and the ice storm of 1973 (or thereabouts) that left a good portion of Southern New England without power for days. Shelters were set-up in the high school and neighbors evacuated to them with their small children and the elderly. There were neither of those in our house at the time. My brothers and I were old enough to carry wood and help our mother tend a fire while my father went room to room, all day, all night, relying on carefully positioned candles to keep the elbow joints of our baseboard copper pipes from freezing.
This was in a day before household generators and wood stoves had become more fashionable and more available in places like Southern Connecticut. And before there was any talk of global warming; the week of that 1970s storm was bone cold. A half-gallon of milk left on our kitchen counter during the night froze by morning.
It was cold. Inside and out.
But we never lost a pipe. Thus saith my father at the time, “Never leave your property to fend for itself.”
So around 10:00 p.m. after dinner service was finished on Saturday and the kitchen cleaned, I got in the truck and headed to Hunts Pond with the idea of hiking through the woods to the house. At a minimum, to let it know it was not forgotten. But to check on the generator, see if anything had fallen on the roof, make sure there was no water coming in. I would stay there. Marcia would stay with the Inn.
It was still very windy when I set out and the snow was swirling. The roads were terrible. Half-way up the hill the state road was blocked on the right by a fallen tree. I drove around it thinking, “Hmmm.”
The snowplows had been out at least once or twice before things started caving-in so the road to our property was open to the spot before our driveway where it was, as Marcia had reported, impassable.
Leaving the truck in the road and the lights on I headed into the woods to pick my way around the impasse at the end of our driveway. Everywhere was the sound of cracking limbs and the occasional crash of one hitting the ground. I got to the driveway relying on my cell phone flashlight. Fallen branches and tree debris littered the ground. I cleared a few aside. More cracking. The lights of the truck behind me were now out of sight. Then a crash and a thud that you can feel in your feet as a something hit the ground to left of me. I became conscious of being watched by creatures of the forest who may have been thinking, perfect time to eat one. “Frankly, he deserves to be eaten.”
Then the voice of my father: Get back in the truck, stupid.
Winter has arrived, and It tingles. It draws on all our senses. For one thing, a good portion of it is dark, thus we are compelled to spend more time feeling our way forward (perhaps with the use of a small light from a cell phone). It Is quiet – especially after a snowstorm – so that the absence of noise alone catches our attention, and certainly any crack that comes from within it. It is cold, transforming everything: the ground that crunches, our breath that crystallizes, the water – as dear Thumper observed – that gets stiff.
Anyone can do summer we sometimes observe to our guests that may be delighting in the experience of a historic New England inn over summer vacation or in the fall, but if you want the real deal, you must come in winter. Only in winter can you experience that tingle of connection with the place and the memories – hardship, even – it evokes, including its famous comforts. It comes from treading carefully across the ice, woolen mittens, scraping windshields, hats, snow down the back of the neck, sweaters, wind lashing at your storm windows but, finally, at last, just when it has gone dark at four o’clock in the afternoon, fuzzy slippers in front of the fireplace.
“How did it go,” Marcia asked when I got back to the Inn from my storm trek in the woods, hands a bit frozen?
“I didn’t make it.”
“Thank goodness you’re back,” she offered. “Let me get your slippers.”