I wrote this essay several years ago after the winter of 1993-1994 and I dig it out to reread every winter in which I feel I’m suffering excessively. Of course, no matter how bad your winter is, someone else can top you, so I don’t promote this as the worst cabin fever anyone ever had, just the worst I ever had. Still, I bet I’ve got at least 80% of you beat.
I suppose I should have been suspicious when we got a foot of snow on Halloween. But we live in a zone 4 climate, and flurries, even the occasional inch or two, are not uncommon for the end of October. Besides, it was really wet snow. Another couple degrees warmer and it would have been all rain. In a day or two it had melted–a fluke. But soon it snowed again. And again. The children thought it was wonderful. They sledded and built snowmen to their hearts’ content. But it got colder and colder. Unlike other years, the temperature didn’t rise above freezing, even during the day. The driveway never showed itself; the piles of shoveled snow on either side rose higher and higher. Eventually, the snow was just too high to be any fun. When it’s hip high on an adult, you can imagine where it comes up to on a third grader.
By December it was routinely below zero (F) at night. (That’s -18C.) In our old, under-insulated house, when it gets that cold, the windows frost over completely. In the whole house, there was only one window you could see out of, and it belonged to the kitchen door. But what was there to look at? Snow, and more snow. The sub-zero cold did have one advantage. There’s a certain macho pleasure in calling the office, “I’m going to be in late this morning. It got down to 37 below last night (that’s -38C) and I can’t get the car started yet.” But that gets old fast.
I referred to the children. Did I mention how many? Eight, ranging in age from infant to teenager, living with two adults in a house of approximately 2,032 square feet. Cozy, huh? I teach them at home–which I love–but it meant this: with the exception of animal feeding and taking out the garbage, the kids never left the house. From November to March–42% of the year, by my reckoning–we were shut up indoors. Towards the end, I was reduced to pacing around the house, looking out the window, looking for–what? For something green, I think, though even the soggy, squishy remains of what was once grass–how many months ago?–would have been a welcome sight after looking at snow for so many months. I didn’t sleep well at nights. The kids were driving me nuts. They were driving each other nuts.
Normally, by the middle of March, the snow is gone, and we ride a roller coaster of alternate thaws and freezes. This year, on March 19th, we had another 4 inches of snow added to the foot or more that was still there. I heard rumors of crocuses in New Jersey and tulips in Texas, and I wondered if I would live to see the day. We started to clutch at straws:
“Don’t you think the trees have a reddish cast? That means they’re going to bud soon; spring can’t be far behind, can it?”
“I heard on the radio that someone saw a robin.”
“Someone where? Georgia?”
Finally, winter broke–just before I did, I’d say. Towards the end of March we got three days of rain. All that snow was gone within a week. I wish I could say, unequivocally, that it was a rotten winter. But I can’t. To my surprise, when the snow melted, I saw my bulbs had sprouted under the snow. My crocuses bloomed earlier than any other winter I’d kept records for. Despite the longest, coldest, snowiest winter in memory, spring came earlier than ever.
I consider myself a dedicated gardener, but I don’t know if I can bring myself to hope it happens again.