There’s been an awful lot of chatter this winter about how unseasonable the weather’s been so far, and how things weren’t like this when we were kids, and how it’s a damn shame about New England not getting a proper white Christmas this year as is fit and proper.
Well, bollocks to all that.
Growing up on Cape Cod, we were pretty much always guaranteed a brown Christmas. Browns and greys are the true color of winter around here — the greys of fog coming in off the sea and the mist that rises from the lakes and rivers in the chilly early morning hours, the browns of the pine needles that scatter across every optimistically tended lawn after the first frost has taken hold, blanketing the earth in a natural mulch that will later turn your blue hydrangeas pink with its slow acidic love.
Skies alternate between an unrelenting grey on Cape Cod during the winter and a sharp, breathtaking blue, and the dunes and beaches are dotted with wild undulating swaths of beach heather and scrubby pockets of heath, all bucketing about gamely in the bitter winds that come racing in off the sea.
This, my friends, is the landscape that convinced me as a child that I was living in a perfect replica of the world of Jane Eyre. These are my moors, my barren signpost at Whitcross, my distant view of a burned out Thornfield.
Or, alternately, this is the wind and rain that blows the hair into my fourteen year old face as I wait for the school bus in the morning and splashes icy water up my pant cuffs to soak the bare calves above my crew socks and keeps my toes cold at least through third period, quite possibly all the way to lunch.
Is it any wonder that I chose Jane over that?
Winter on Cape Cod means rain, and cold, and grey. It means watching the news on a Sunday night while the weatherman forecasts snowstorms and school closings for Boston, then cavalierly remarks that the Cape, of course, will be “spared.” We will “get off” with only a light dusting. We will have school in the morning. And that dusting of snow will crunch softly under our feet as we trudge out to the bus stop in our puffy coats and handknit caps, mittened hands sticking out from our bodies at vaguely military angles while our breath forms clouds that disappear as soon as they fog up our glasses.
We will have stayed up all night — far, far past our bedtimes — watching the long, sad scroll of schools and institutions on the mainland that would be closing in advance of the storm that would leave us merely cold, and wet, and feeling more than a little bit left out.
It is cold now on Cape Cod, and we are forecast this night to receive our ritual dusting of snow. There is no storm predicted for the tightly packed suburbs of Boston this time, though, no lacing up of boots and mounting of sledding hills on a clear, bright snow day that the rest of us on Cape Cod will watch on your evening news with mounting envy and a sore sense of the injustice of the world.
But then, if we are fortunate enough to be grownups by now, we will come around to a different point of view. We will finish our coffee on cold winter mornings, and we will bundle ourselves up in the clothes that make us feel most protected and loved by the world, tucking scraps of warmth into all the vulnerable crevices of our skin as we have learned, over the years, to do. Neck, chin, ears. Hands, wrists, fingers. Calves, ankles, feet.
And when we are ready, and we have assured ourselves that there is absolutely no coffee left to linger over, we will open the door and we will walk outside, pausing on the threshold to listen to that raucous silence that is so unique to the ocean in winter. We will take our daily walk along the empty beach parking lots and feel the red in our faces and the salt sting behind our eyes and we will know who is blessed, and who is given mere consolation prizes, by the playful gods of nature, and weather, and the sea.
I am sorry that the earth is warming, and that winters are changing, perhaps beyond recall. But I am no longer sorry that a Cape Cod winter is defined by its emptiness, by what does not happen here. These months are shaped by the roads that lie barren of summer traffic, by restaurants that will take no reservations until spring, by stores that are shuttered up tight along Main Street, their signs creaking softly in the unceasing wind. By the snow that hardly ever comes, but instead leaves its clever, subtle signature all over the landscape, for those who are willing to seek it.
On fence posts rimed with frost. On mossy fallen trees that wait patiently to decay. On berried twigs bright red with defiance, shouting at you as you pass them by. And on faintly silvered branches, held up tall and proud against the startling blue sky, your eyes watering as you try, and fail, to look away.