February: The Longest Month

An island tree after a recent snowfall. Photo copyright Nathaniel Hammond
An island tree after a recent snowfall.
Photo copyright Nathaniel Hammond
There’s an old joke that February is the shortest month of the year because New Englanders couldn’t stand it to be one day longer. This year February has seemed particularly long–in the last week alone we’ve seen sub-zero temperatures, several light snowstorms, clear, sunny days, and a thunderstorm. But tomorrow the month finally comes to an end and we can welcome March and, perhaps, some early signs of spring.
Here on my small Maine island the deer are so desperate for food that they have devoured huge chunks of my holly bushes and I expect they are waiting ravenously for the first tulips to poke through the ground. That will be a while, however, as the snow drifts are still several feet high in the gardens. I can feel the mood around town lightening as the days continue to grow longer, the snowstorms grow lighter, and the sun shines more brightly. Today as I look out my office window, sunlight is breaking through the cloud cover and the sky is pale blue instead of gray. And on my early morning walk I heard a few birds chirping and actually spotted a robin. Spring is coming and my quiet island will awaken again.

Winter Wonderland in Maine

Fresh snow falls on a small Maine island. Photo c. Nathaniel Hammond
Fresh snow falls on a small Maine island.
Photo c. Nathaniel Hammond
This year’s long, cold Maine winter does have some bright spots, including the winter wonderland we awake to every time we have a fresh snowfall. Today is one of those days. Although it’s bitterly cold outside, I have a great view from my office window of clear blue skies and whitecaps dancing across azure water while seagulls soar overhead.
When you spend winter on a small island with about 100 other hardy people, you quickly learn to help each other out. Last week more than 100 people, including of course some who came over from the mainland, attended a benefit potluck supper at the little island church’s community hall. All the proceeds went to help a local family whose business recently burned down. That kind of camaraderie is one of the best things about living in Maine.
Cold or not, sunny days like this one bring out walkers, and this morning I saw people I haven’t run across in weeks, bundled up to their eyes but determined to get out and about. It has been a rough winter even by Maine standards, but with the end of February in sight, everyone is looking forward to spring….eventually. Meanwhile, we slide to the store in the morning for the newspapers, cross-country ski in our own back yards, and experiment with meals that take all day to cook and warm up the kitchen while they’re bubbling along. Pretty soon I should be reporting on the first returning birds and the first crocus sightings….just not this week, I expect, as another 4-8 inches of snow are predicted within the next few days.

February on a Small Maine Island

With the sun shining, everything that’s good about living in a remote corner of Maine comes into clear focus. This morning, for example, I took my usual two-mile walk around the island, ending up at one of our two tiny cafe-stores to buy the newspaper. Although clear and sunny — really a gorgeous day — it is also bitterly cold, and many of the local lobstermen

A Maine lobster boat at anchor at the end of a day's work.
A Maine lobster boat at anchor at the end of a day’s work.
were inside drinking coffee and waiting for things to warm up a bit before heading out.
Their pickup trucks were lined up nose to nose outside the cafe, a couple with the engines still running, and every one with the keys still in the ignition. Although I’m used to seeing this, for some reason this morning I was very aware of how lucky I am to be living in a place where you can confidently park your vehicle, keys and all, and enjoy your day without a worry about your car or truck being stolen. No great philosophical awakening here….just a quick reminder that I’m pretty darned lucky. it was a fortuitous start to my morning (and I’ll have to remember it tomorrow when another 8 inches of snow are predicted and we’ll all be back to grumbling about the weather).