In Defense of Winter – Part 2
Or, in other words, the reasons why a really cold winter is part of glorious summers in Maine….
Several years ago (2011 to be exact), I published a blog post titled In Defense of Winter, which extolled the virtues of the harsh Maine winters. Mostly I argued from the perspective of “harsh winters = less people want to live here = more open space and undeveloped land = clean air and water = the perfect landscape for a summer camp”. All of that is still true, and for interest sake, you can read the full blog here:
Now, in early 2018, we are already experiencing a winter in Maine unlike many in recent memory. An unprecedented run of temperatures well below 0 degrees F (-18 degrees C for metric-fluent friends) has wreaked havoc on school bus fleets, sent plumbers and heating specialists racing to the bank with bags of cash earned from emergency calls, and has dog owners envying indoor cat owners. And the poor elementary school kids wanting to play outside having to decide which was better – sledding, or not have facial features drop off from frostbite. All this, just a couple of weeks after the official start of winter.
This is where I should make a joke about changing the M in MTC to Miami, or some other similarly warm place. But I can’t do it. I can’t throw winter under the bus like that. The confession of this Australian living in Maine is – winter is beautiful, and absolutely necessary.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it, as he said many things, better than most of us can - “Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight”. There is something almost otherworldly about the winter beauty of Maine. The recent bitter cold held a layer of ice to the bare tree branches for more than a week, the low angle of the light making the trees appear to glow of their own accord. The massive temperature difference between air and sea saw wispy tendrils of “sea smoke” rising off Casco Bay every morning, forming an eerie layer of fog which hung close to the water, the rising sun casting it all in yellow and orange, looking incongruously warm. Chickadees puffed up, kids waiting for the bus too, bird and kids alike with their puffiest coats. Ice crystals forming fantastic, fractal-ish shapes wherever water had a brief, but doomed, chance at liquid or vapor. Everywhere you look there is something transformed, waiting to be seen in a new way, appreciated for a different form. Maine’s winter beauty feels like a hidden bonus, something special just for those of us who stay…
But the real reward isn’t quite as apparent, not yet at least. This reward may take months, if not years, to be fully appreciated. Because the truth is that Maine needs harsh winters like this, if it is to remain “Maine”. The examples are everywhere.
For instance - the iconic, massive, Maine moose. Mild winters wreak havoc on these guys - if it never gets cold enough to kill off the tick population, moose of all ages suffer, with the calves particularly vulnerable. Maine lakes, for another example – without a deep, cold winter, the water of some of the shallower lakes and ponds warms up too much, leaving them open to invasion by algae blooms. The lakes and underlying aquifers are refilled by snow melt, the streams and rivers cleaned out by spring floods, ready for spawning fish and eager fishermen. Our forests suffer too, when the winter doesn’t get cold enough to kill off the bugs and diseases that prey on them, trees becoming stressed, weaker, and more vulnerable to storms. It also helps the plants native to our part of Maine - the white pine and white oak. hemlock and maple, and most deliciously, blueberries - compete with invasive species that are not likewise suited to such intense, prolonged cold. A run of years without a proper winter takes a toll on our forests, lakes, and wildlife. But proper winters, with deep cold, work to preserve Maine as we know it, love it and need it to be.
And so, our very cold winter works, in many ways, like ahealthy immune system, or a good night sleep. That’s not to say it makes it easy for guys like Mark Bolton, MTC’s Facility Director, who plows snow for hours and hours every time a storm hits, but it does help us get through. You look for the beauty of winter now, and remind yourself of the beauty it facilitates later. When we’re enjoying swimming in the clear water of Stanley Pond this summer, hiking or biking through healthy woods rich with wildlife, or stuffing ourselves full of the sweet wild blueberries up on Burnt Meadow Mountain, we’ll be grateful for these cold days, and recognize that winter is an essential ingredient to another beautiful summer in the state of Maine.