When explorer John Smith made landfall in America and began charting the shoreline of the East Coast, it is reported that he sailed into Maine and immediately turned his ship around, citing the upper reaches of New England to be the over-cold. I tried to do the same thing when I first arrived to Maine, but the flight crew of United Airlines insisted I disembark the vessel. Fortunately, it was August and Maine was suffering a heat wave, a term I use laughingly since I was raised in Arizona where heat waves are only declared once the asphalt roads begin to bubble and people perish upon setting out to collect the mail.
That first winter in Maine was a tough one on which to cut my teeth. The harsh temperatures were unrelenting and heavy snow dumped upon the coast for what seemed an entire calendar year. Wisdom comes with winters, I muttered often. And it did. I grew wise to many things I had previously considered hyperbole or lore, like black ice and deadly icicles that plummet from rooftops. I also learned of the crowning jewel of coastal winters: the snowy mix. Nothing makes dressing, driving, walking, and choosing to go on living more difficult than a snowy mix.
Through the hardship of winter, though, I learned of its requiem. Spring. In places I have previously lived, spring arrives like a parade. The throngs of people are eagerly waiting for it to begin, and just when you think you have enough time to duck inside a restaurant to use the facilities, it’s marching by. Spring arrives differently in Maine. The grip of winter eases hesitantly and with several false starts. Snow boots become rain boots and then snow boots again. We prepare with equal diligence for Easter and Nor’easter. As the states to the south of us showcase their cherry blossoms and open-toed footwear, those of us in the over-cold are still existing on chili and wondering if it’s time to take down the holiday wreaths.
School releases for Spring Break, a much less ominous title than its precursor, February Break. There isn’t the same exodus from Maine during this week. You can face your fellow townspeople the week before without fear of hearing their plans of treason which include traitorous words like Mexico and Florida. While we’re not yet taking a break from spring, it’s the break we need to start searching for it. Spring is no easy find here. It beckons quietly, probably because it’s covered by mud, and we’re forced to scour our surrounds for earnest signs of it.
At long last we take note that the snow-hardened earth has waged its land-grab upon the slush. Animals long forgotten make their presence known by rummaging through the garbage again. Ten layers dwindle to two or three. Crockpots resume their post as
storage for pens and unpaid bills.
Spring in Maine allows for the sort of reflection typically mustered at the seam of a new year. It brings time for introspection and a renewal that comes with not wearing flannel for extended periods. To take an ambling walk under sunlight and to glimpse a harbor that has broken up its last floes of ice reminds us that while it’s still cold, it’s no longer the over-cold.
You have outlasted another winter, which is more than the earliest settlers could claim. Feeling victorious – and maybe slightly sunburned – you return home to relocate the down jackets and shovels to the recesses of the garage. You spruce up and make space, both within your home and your self. You are struck by grandiose ideas of converting your mudroom into a sauna or a guest bedroom. You stand proudly in your home which has been denuded of the trappings of winter, admiring the lightness that spring cleaning affords, when a voice emanating from the television seizes your attention.
6 to 8 inches of snow on Thursday.
And suddenly you wonder if John Smith’s boat might still be out there, bobbing in the Atlantic, ready to take us all down to Virginia.