February 17, 2013

North Cairn: A scent of spring in the snowfall

A couple of days after the big blizzard, everything about the weather -- and the world beyond the door -- changed.

It wasn't simply that snow stopped falling. In fact, for a while it seemed as though nature was just having fun with us, tossing down snow, then rain, then something like hail, then needles of sleet. It all seemed to affirm that old Yankee saying that resonates throughout New England, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes. It'll change."

For hours on end, as the storm blew itself out and the temperatures started crawling up into snowmelt range, I sat in the house, trying to rev myself into a fit of quilting or papermaking or some sort of constructive craft. The dog was busy, too, snoring away, waking only to move from one patch of warming sunlight into another or, failing that, closer to the wood stove.

Sometime in the mid-afternoon, there was a thunder overhead and the sound of an avalanche -- the fallen snow on the roof was making another descent, onto the deck, over the less-pitched roof of the little addition or around the edge of the house. A few less dramatic sheddings had pelted down to the ground earlier in the day, but this one sounded almost like the roof falling off in great ice sheets of slate.

But it was only the blizzard backing into its final fall.

It shook the whole little cabin, only for a second or two, as the water-logged bergs from above crashed past the bedroom windows, dwarfed the action on the flat screen in front of me and then came at last to a stop.

"That was a good one," I shouted to the dog, who tends to get anxious when the elements start acting like what they really are -- forces greater and more powerful than we are. She was almost ready to abscond to the tub for a hideout, but I reassured her the house would still be standing and things would quiet down -- all in good time.

But for me the closest thing to perfection that came with the storm was its sunny wake that dawned last Tuesday morning. I was up and out early, trying to get the dog walked and wearied for the day, and had barely started from the porch when the fragrance and clarity of the air struck me, full face.

Hard to believe, it smelled and felt like spring.

It had something to do with how clean it felt, as though the atmosphere had expelled all of its bad mood with the blizzard and now, for a few hours, was going to relax and remind us of the wonder of being outdoors.

The morning before, I had awakened just before dawn and lay in bed for several minutes before rising. I had finally gotten up and gone off for morning ministrations when the dog began frantically to bark at the bedroom window.

I looked out, and there on the farthest side of the property, where the yard finishes and a half-heartedly cleared path leads back into the woods, we saw our old familiars, the deer, making their way -- I assumed, from the plowed driveway -- along the open space into the woods.

They walked gingerly and so slowly, as though they were utterly exhausted, though I wasn't so sure it was that I saw in their gait. The snow was deep, almost to their bellies and moving required high-stepping and careful placement of forepaws. There was no way to see where a boulder might be under all that snow; it was no time for a wild animal to be anything other than apprehensive.

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