Winter brings with it an apprehension, a raised expectation. We consult the almanacs and listen to the prognosticators. Never mind that they are often wrong. We always want to know what to expect, and hope we are ready. We expect snow. And plenty of it. My preparations begin in late fall. I remove the screens from the porch and stash summer furniture in the horse barn. Where the furniture stood, I stack three cords of wood. Onions, potatoes, squash, cabbages, and apples are stowed in the cellar. The snow shovel rests beside the woodpile on the porch. The table thus set, we await winter’s banquet.
I have a new neighbor, Anne, who is not really a new neighbor at all. She has been here far longer than I, but always in the summer — never in the winter. Two years ago she retired, prepared for herself a new home that would embrace her through the winter months, and moved up from the city. I worried that these days would be difficult for her. We have had some winters in the recent past that have been brutal. But last winter was mild and easy, a frustrating succession of calm days carrying balmy temperatures. At least twice, the hayfields turned green — this in January and in February. Lilies and bulbs poked up through the soft earth as the sun beat down. Roads remained clear, and we drove here and there without regard for the forecast. Weathermen stumbled in their explanations, but the storms that I waited for never came.
Instead of snow came wind. Up here on the hill, winds can reach the rate of a speeding car, tossing small objects into the air, toppling trees, and pushing snow into massive drifts. But because we who live here on this hill in the winter are not exactly a population center (population 3, up from 2), no notice of these storms is made, nothing recorded — only our memories of “the time when the lights went out.”
And so they did one cold day in February as the door of my car was nearly torn from my hand when I tried to make a quick exit that afternoon. By nightfall, the electricity was off at my house. I called Anne to see if she needed anything and found that she was perfectly fine. “I have a generator,” she said. “Would you like to come for dinner?” I accepted. Soon after that, several other nearby friends called to see if my lights were off and reported that theirs were, too. Apparently it was an area-wide outage. We all ended up at Anne’s new house, a glowing oasis in the storm, traveling up her long driveway bearing contributions from our dark refrigerators. It was an unusual evening wherein lamps seemed ingenious, as did the automatic heat. Good conversation flowed like the blessed water from the tap.
Though Anne’s and my electricity was restored by the end of the night, for some, the outage lasted three days. Soon enough, the weather turned mild again. That windstorm remained our single winter adventure. Plenty of wood was left on the porch and the snow shovel had hardly budged from its lean beside the door. I called it “the winter of a thousand springs.” The disappointing months turned to an imperceptible spring, leaving me hungry, a bit grumpy … as if that fine meal I’d been promised was never served.