This is the week of the year when anyone who can, flees the Island.
The kids are out of school, flights to anywhere are astronomical and the cold has gotten on everyone’s nerves. I’m staying here. I am going off-Island to the dentist, if that counts. To get a crown. Probably as expensive as a tropical vacation and certainly longer-lasting, but still. (And why does something that’s so pricey look like a tooth? As a kid, I pictured it as a little gold crown, like a princess wore.)
Most everyone who has spent this winter on the Island agrees it has been a bad one, whomped with named storm after named storm, the Weather Channel hysterically predicting massive snowstorms a week ahead of time. And the icy driveways, parking lots and sidewalks that never seem to melt, making me particularly cautious on the trek to my car. I sprained my wrist two years ago, on the one day of snow we had that winter, photographing the kids sledding at Goat Hill. My wrist still gets easily annoyed, especially after a day at the keyboard.
I’m not a snow lover. I wish I was, it would make winter fun instead of just annoying. I grew up in Buffalo, where you expected to wear your snow boots for four months of the year. It was truly a sign of spring when you dumped your boots in the cellar closet and wore sneakers for the first time.
My husband, son and I lived in Florida for a few years; we worked in restaurants and planned to follow the seasons: traveling south to catch the vacationers and snowbirds in the winter, and returning here in the summer to cater to the summer people. We moved there in January, right into an El Nino storm pattern, with unseasonable rain and winds throughout the winter months. We didn’t care. On full moon nights we rode our bikes on the beach near the waterline and wore sweatshirts and shorts and felt lucky to be there.
By the second winter though, I grew tired of the sameness, that sense of unreality. Those endless days of sunshine made me yearn for rain or snow, something to break the monotony of sunshine and 80 degrees.
You couldn’t go to Publix Supermarket or Home Depot without hearing the litany of the old men bragging that their hometown in Michigan or New York or Ohio had just gotten 10 inches of snow the night before. “At least I don’t have to shovel. I’ve shoveled enough for my whole lifetime,” they’d say.
We had a friend who grew up in Pennsylvania and even though she’d lived in southwest Florida for 25 years, she still had a stockpile of wood like she was heating a cabin in the Poconos. She’d have a fire going and the air-conditioning cranked.
I liked the days when the temperature would drop and we’d light a fire in our fireplace. I missed the seasons and yes, even the snow. I have to remind myself of this now, when I watch another friend come back with a one-week tan (or sunburn), looking blissful that they’re missed the latest winter catastrophe. I imagine packing just a bathing suit, sunblock, T-shirt and a pair of shorts into a suitcase and flinging my winter jacket into the back seat of the car in the airport parking lot. Right now, Florida seems like a very good idea.
Here on the Island, there are gifts of the season. Ones that are never seen or opened by our summer friends, like the day after a blizzard when every surface wears a disguise, a crystalline blue sky, the sun blinding against all that white. Mother Nature’s apology.
I walk around the Heights on another monochromatic day, the weak sun low in the sky, and everything I see is a black and white photograph: a tire swing hanging from a bare tree, surrounded by white sky and ground; the sculpture of a man holding a woman and child in front of Our Lady of the Isle Church, a cloak of snow resting on his shoulders; a seagull and a crow arguing over a piece of scallop one has pulled from the frozen ground; two Adirondack chairs perched in the snow, overlooking a frozen creek; a park bench sheltered by snow-laden branches; icicles that hang off the eaves, reflecting the winter sun like suncatcher spears; mosaics of ice tangled together in bare bushes; the red burst of cardinals perched on a railing, like lace-covered Valentines all month long; and my city neighbor’s house frosted with white — she’ll miss it because it will melt by the time she returns.
Those of us left behind are survivors, huddled around the bonfire. When spring comes, we’ll shed our long underwear, down jackets and winter boots and celebrate that we’ve made it through another winter. And while others are shaking their heads over their credit card bills from their vacation, I’ll have a shiny new crown.