We’re deep in the keep of winter now. This one feels like an old-fashioned winter. New England memory adds snow to past seasons. Lean winters don’t stick in the mind. There’s more talk of Florida lately now that we are past the holidays and snowbirds are jetting south for their weeks away. For several years my family was lucky enough to spend time on the island of St. Lucia. We’d go in late January when our son was small, and later during February school vacation. Some years we barely got out of Logan Airport. The door would close on a freezing breeze and then re-open in the hot afternoon in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the connecting flight. We’d land in Castries amid the jungle flowers. I was thinking of that scene while I guided the snowblower down the sidewalk after the sky cleared this morning.
Ours is a trying climate. A friend of mine is in Malibu this week, driving with the top down on his rental car. He’s a New Englander through and through, but he had to ask, “Why do we live there?” It’s the rub-it-in reflex in all of us. I tried California in the 1980s, but couldn’t settle in. I was too used to community life back here. I’m probably being unfair when I say most of the people I met in Southern California struck me as being independent contractors, each a kind of pioneer even if a native. I found a mindset of individualism. Our Henry Thoreau on the pond in Concord might have fit in well in Orange County, so this is not to say all New Englanders are joiners. But we did choose the town meeting format as a way to live in common.
Snowstorms feed the community impulse. Somebody shovels a neighbor’s walk. Another somebody uncovers the hydrant. Two strangers digging out an older couple’s front steps up the street say hi for the first time. The plow guy sees somebody clearing the last white stuff from the bottom of a driveway and swings wide on this pass to give the other guy a break instead of sealing him up in icy concrete. A woman in the corner house makes a space in the snowy yard to put down shredded bread for the birds…and squirrels. The homes rarely look so unified as when the snow makes a shared ground.