Spring in New England has always felt like a tug-of-war between winter and summer. Some years, April brings harsher winter weather than March, even harsher than we’ve had since December. Other years, it feels like summer arrives early and April is more like a June without shade. Most years, regardless, there is a cascade of clean snowmelt off the peaks and mountainsides, flushing the forests and brookbeds of winter’s accumulated detritus. Most years, the melting snow is a cue for us to wake, and stretch, and explore.
This year there is no snow to melt.
Since December the ground has been cold and hard and grey, and the occasional dustings of snow were never enough to let winter really settle in. This year’s winter sleep has been fitful and restless, with flowers popping out early only to die in hard frost; snow falling lightly overnight only to disappear in hard sunshine; and trees shifting and twisting in the unsettled wind.
The rivers are still full, of rain rather than snowmelt. In normal years, they are a rich golden brown with the tannins from high-elevation spruce, fir, and pine. This year they are grey and churning with dusty soil. Snowmelt sinks through the duff and flushes it clean, but heavy rain on bare ground simply washes it away. The low growth that will soon hold the forest floor in place has not yet sprouted.
If we carry on changing the climate this way, we can expect more winters like this one: winters where the snow falls rarely or not at all, and where the clouds cannot settle between rain and ice. Winter will become a forgotten friend and occasional houseguest, welcomed when it deigns to visit and yet never staying long enough for us to know one another well.
Winter in New England has always been long, so long that it settles into your bones and overstays its welcome. And yet the thought of its absence feels much worse to me—I should rather winter be a friend I know too well than a friend I am always missing.
Image Credit: Corps New England