January 21

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.

4 Responses to January 21

  1. Bob Forrant says:

    Left Malibu for San Francisco and the good weather followed me here. Golden Gate Park, Alcatraz, the Embarcadaro (sp) and it is clear and sunny and in the mid-60s. Problem for me living here would be for the first year I would get no work done; I would sit outside, sip something, read a good novel, and ….. Maybe I need the dark winter and it’s chill as a motivating tool to write, research and teach.

    I do know first class on this coming Tuesday will be a push! Maybe I should pray for a snow day? Not.

  2. C R Krieger says:

    “…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.”

    You make it sound very attractive.

    And that is not even mentioning San Diego.

    Regards  —  Cliff

  3. Marianne says:

    Your post very eloquently sums up how I felt living in California – I was surprised how much I missed New England itself – the culture, the people, they way of life – and living in CA also made me realize that winter is truly my favorite season. The two-odd years I spent in SF were like a long dream void of any of the time and place markers I cherished from living in New England. We visited Seattle in April of the last year we were there and all of the trees were in bloom while we were there – I wept from seeing spring (and I am pretty certain that was the push that eventually brought us back the following fall.)

  4. Nancye says:

    I remember being somewhat dazed and confused in February, 1985, when I spent a week in Beverly Hills, packing up the belongings my sisters and I had inherited from our deceased aunt. Between wrapping china and vases and going through papers, my sister and I managed to sit in the sunshine, pick lemons from the tree in the yard and poke around Rodeo Drive. It was glorious, to be sure, but surreal to me, a diehard Easterner, who was putting down roots in New England. A great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.. Maybe that’s why so many actors and directors keep a place in LA, but call somewhere else their real home.