It's winter in Pennsylvania and the
gentle breezes blow
Seventy miles an hour at twenty-five below.
Oh, how I love Pennsylvania when the snow's up to your butt,
You take a breath of winter and your nose gets frozen shut.
Yes, the weather here is wonderful so I guess I'll hang
I could never leave Pennsylvania 'cause I'm frozen to the
-- A teacher in Johnstown, Pa.
A childhood friend from western Pennsylvania
sent me this poem last week. Interestingly, he isn't having the
kind of winter I remember from my first 20 years of life; but we
are, here in eastern Massachusetts.
Weathermen call it "the Great Lakes effect,"
the cold and snow flowing down from, in my hometown's case, Lake
Erie. Since it all seemed normal to us, I don't recall anyone
talking about weather much; instead I remember specific things,
Hearing — for the first time since December —
the clicking sound of my shoes on bare sidewalks in April.
The occasional nosebleeds after walking to
When it was really cold my dad would drive
me: I recall my parents apologizing one day that I walked
because they didn't realize it was 18 degrees below zero. That's
an actual temperature; I never heard the phrase "wind-chill
factor" till I moved here.
Carefully picking my way over lumpily frozen
sidewalks on the way home from school, trying not to fall; then
doing homework, inhaling supper, and running out the door and
down the hill to the neighborhood skating pond. If the owner had
cleared the ice after the latest snowfall, he'd turn on the
outdoor lights so the neighborhood kids would know the pond was
ours. We skated almost every evening, through February. By March
it was getting old and the ice a tad slushy; we were ready for
tennis and baseball.
Shivering in the car waiting for the heater
Eventually I learned that if you just relax
into the cold instead of fighting it, you stop shivering. This
became an important lesson in dealing with other kinds of
physical or even emotional discomfort, an early version of
Back then, like now, everyone tuned in to the
Groundhog Day event on Feb. 2, Punxsutawney being just about 60
miles down the road. But the way my friends and I remember it,
there would be six more weeks of winter if Phil did not see his
shadow, and spring was coming soon if he did.
This makes sense, since the reason he doesn't
see his shadow is that he can't get out of his den because two
months' worth of snow is piled in the opening; and even if he
does get out, it's cloudy, and snowing again. But for some
reason folks nowadays have it backwards.
I think the original Germans got it backwards
too, though. Of course, over in Europe, they were using a badger
or a bear for prognosticating, and weren't disturbing its sleep
to hold it up to the cameras if they knew what was good for
Anyhow, last week the mild-mannered
Pennsylvania groundhog did not see his shadow, which I still
assume means six more weeks of winter — and which is at least
two fewer weeks than I recall from my childhood, regardless of
what Phil saw or didn't see. It's probably then going to take
another six weeks of sunshine for the piles of snow to
Meanwhile, there Chip was, wearing the safety
harness he uses for single-handed ocean sailing, with the
attached rope tied around the bedpost in my upstairs guest
bedroom, climbing out the window last weekend to attack a
three-foot ice jam in the far corner of the porch roof. My job
was to feed out the rope and take pictures, which can be seen on
his website, in his winter journal [click
here to see].
Much of the ice jam is still there, but he
cleared the shingles around it so that, theoretically, melting
snow will run off the roof.
I'm not too worried; I don't remember my dad
climbing up on our slanted roof to release ice dams. I don't
think I've ever seen one before.
The one I have now does make me wonder about
"global warming," however. Does melting Arctic ice put more
moisture in the air that is falling here and settling on my
porch roof? (Though, oddly, not on my old friends' roofs below
Lake Erie, at least not this year.)
Another thing I remember from the past: My
mother saying, "It's too cold to snow." Would there be less new
snow in an Ice Age, when the old snow just never gets around to
melting? Maybe the entire climate-change thing is somehow
connected to groundhogs, and their confusion about whether they
should go looking for their shadows or not.
So I'm not going to worry about any of this.
I'd be happy if the town trash collectors would just put my
trash-can lid in or alongside the empty barrel, instead of
tossing it into the middle of the yard, where I can't reach it
till some local groundhog someday sees his shadow in the warm,
spring, Massachusetts sun.