It’s the first day of spring. This makes most people happy. Not me. I’ve spent all winter with a small knot in my chest, the kind you get when you learn a dear friend has a terminal illness. What I’ve been grieving is not a friend but winter, the loss of a season I loved.

That may sound strange. To many people, winter is just freezing temperatures, snow and ice – something to be endured.

But I love Maine winters. Yes, I like to ski and skate. But it’s more than that. I love the ice; the patterns it makes on the windows in the mornings. The way it glitters on trees after an ice storm. I love snow; shoveling driveways in the dark after an overnight snowfall, exchanging rueful smiles with neighbors. The way sounds are muffled and landscapes completely altered. I even love the cold and dark, because it gives me a chance to sit with a cup of tea, wrapped in a blanket, reading by the fire before the sun comes up.

I get this trait from my mother, who grew up in Minnesota and regaled us with tales of sleeping in an outdoor “sleeping porch” during the legendary winters as a child. A few weekends ago, I visited her birthplace for the first time. As the airplane descended through the clouds, I peered outside, eager to glimpse the land of 10,000 lakes blanketed in snow. The lakes were open water. There was no snow. And I mean Not. A. Flake. Not even frozen remnants in parking lots or under trees. It was March 1 and that day’s headlines announced that the state had just finished its hottest winter on record.

I’ve lived in Maine half my life (I’m 72) and this is the first winter since moving here in 1988 that the skis never came out of the cellar. The skates came out once. Three weeks ago, I heard there was ice at a pond near Portland. It’s rare to skate in February, which typically sees two feet of snow. But this year we’d had just a half inch. I eagerly fetched my skates from storage, but by the time I got to Great Pond, temperatures had risen and the ice had melted. My blades sank into the soft ice with each step. I kept going; surely it would be better further out. I had to give up.

Next morning I rose early, determined to get there while the ice was still hard. “You’re just doing this,” my baffled husband said as I dashed out the door, “so you can tell yourself you went skating this year. Aren’t you?”


He was right. As I doggedly made my way around the circumference of the barely frozen pond – I wasn’t risking the center – I felt little pleasure and mostly grief. I felt like someone sitting at the bedside of a failing friend desperately holding onto memories and hopes.

Trying to accept the news – that winter was dying – was very like the grieving process. As the evidence has mounted, I’ve been in denial: This is a fluke, next year will be better, more “normal.”

But this past year has made it impossible to pretend. The Summer That Wasn’t – weeks of seemingly daily rain or fog – was followed by the Fall That Wasn’t, the hoped-for brilliant foliage dulled by the summer rain. And now, the Winter That Wasn’t.

I’ve gotten past denial. I’m sad, deeply sad. I’m also angry at those who’ve been so busy calling climate change a hoax. I’m tired of having to bargain over the deteriorating health of our planet and I will never, ever accept it.

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