February 3, 2015 by Jean
The graphic above is my local 10-day weather forecast from last Wednesday, the day after our big blizzard. You can see the pattern: two days of sunshine followed by another 6-12” of snow, followed by two days of sunshine, followed by another 6-12” of snow, followed by two days of sunshine, followed by another foot or so of snow. This is the rhythm around which my winter days are currently organized.
In the 25 years that I have owned this house, I have only spent February here three times (during sabbatical years in 1996, 2003, and 2010), so I need to feel my way back into the rhythm of winter chores. My main winter chores are (1) shoveling snow and (2) feeding my woodstove. In those earlier Februaries, I sometimes developed a pattern of going out first thing each morning to spend an hour or so doing outdoor chores (shoveling or hauling in wood) before I showered and dressed and had breakfast. At this stage of my life, I no longer find the bracing experience of being outdoors at first light in sub-zero temperatures appealing. Instead, I am staying in snug and warm on the snowy days and then going out on the sunny days to spend 2-3 hours shoveling at the warmest part of the day.
Hauling in wood to feed my woodstove was another outdoor chore in those past winters. I used to store most of my firewood outside with a 5-7 day supply in an indoor rack near the woodstove, so I would need to spend an hour hauling in firewood from the outdoor stacks at least once a week. This year, I’ve added a second indoor rack near the woodstove, and I also have a month or more of firewood stacked in an alcove in the basement room under my new addition. The rest is stacked outdoors, in covered racks right outside my walk-in basement entrance. I still need to move wood to one of the racks near the woodstove once a week, but now I can choose whether to get that wood from the indoor alcove or the outdoor racks. This means moving wood from outside when it is pleasant to do so and from inside when it is not.
I can imagine some readers wondering when these winter chores would ever be pleasant. But, like many people who live in Maine (and especially those who choose to retire here), I am a winter lover. I find the snow-covered world around me (especially in February, when the snow is clean and fresh) beautiful, and the quality of light (both sunlight and moonlight) reflected off snow is magical. I also love being out in the crisp winter air, particularly when the sun is shining, temperatures are near or above 20F, the winds are calm, and I am appropriately dressed in layers of warm clothing.
But being outside in winter is not just about doing winter chores; there are also many opportunities for winter fun. Maine has a non-profit organization called WinterKids whose mission is to get kids (and their families) in the habit of having fun outdoors in the winter. The organization sponsors outdoor events like sledding, ice skating, skiing, snowboarding and snow shoeing and provides free “passports” for lessons and to remove the barrier of cost for some of these activities.
When I was a child, my favorite winter activities were sledding and ice skating (on the frozen duck pond at a nearby city park). I’ve never developed an interest in downhill skiing or snow-boarding: the prospect of hurtling down a slippery slope at high speed mostly strikes me as terrifying. But when I first moved to Maine 35 years ago, I took up cross-country skiing. I haven’t been on my skis in years, but if I can ever get caught up on the shoveling, I’d like to get out in this. Skiing on this kind of light powdery snow, on a sunny day with temperatures in the twenties is my idea of just about perfect. Now that I’m retired, I’d also like to get myself some snowshoes for another form of good winter outdoor fun.