I can announce with a smattering of certainty that, as of this writing, Old Man Winter has left the building.
Then again, I said the same thing around this time of year in 2021 and my tapping of the “.” key served as the starter’s gun for the next April blizzard.
Demoralizing spring snowstorms inspire New Englanders to sink FOR SALE signs into their front lawns and embrace the warmer Southern climate at least six months of the year. I’m no ornithologist but I totally get snowbirds.
Spring has been a special season since my grandparents, Gia and Garpy, taught me to keep an eye or two out for its harbingers: the purple, white and yellow frontline crocuses pushing up through moist soil, the emergence of rhubarb’s vivid green leaves and robins deployed throughout the yard engaged in tug-o-war matches with worms intent on staying in tunnels not gullets.
Summers are a blast, as we flock to the great – or at least pretty good – outdoors for beach fun, pool splashing and trips to mountainous regions. Any place that electric companies can’t charge us.
As a kid, fall meant backyard football, driveway street hockey and apple-hurling – often all in the same day. Aside of the growing cold, fall is a decent season highlighted by the welcome gluttony and laze that comes with Thanksgiving and any football Sunday.
But winter I hate to the core. It’s even difficult to find anything redeemable except for Christmas. And that’s only if every gift is purchased on sale.
Several decades have passed since I enjoyed the season responsible for frostbite, plowable snow and heating bills. Did you know that opening winter-heating fuel bills kills more middle-age men than diabetes and chicken pox combined?
I’m thinking the last time I enjoyed winter I was in elementary school. Plows converted parking lot snow into 2-story alps that separated the parking lot from the kickball/tag/cripple-the-kid-with-the-ball playing field.
There on the man-made mountain range we conducted snowy war games involving snowballs and a great desire to overthrow the “king of the mountain.” That title was fleeting as it was held briefly by whoever scrambled to the top of the mound first, before being pulled down or tackled and replaced by the likes of Joe Kamal or the late, great Mike Jozokos.
Several of us nerdier raiders wore black rubber galoshes with a column of defiant clasps that stretched over our normal sneakers. We could have whittled cleated hiking boots from a log in less time than it took to put on and remove those galoshes. Cooler marauders like Billy Brown and Martin Cassidy wore green clamming boots or snowmobile boots (snowmobile sold separately) with better tread that increased their reign atop the mountain.
One day a few mischievous students rolled a giant snowball to the crest of the banking that descended to Hampstead Street. Thinking that a stove-size snowball would entertain most of the school body if it were to roll into the road, the posse gave their projectile blob a good shove.
As luck would have it, an elderly couple in a big luxury car en route to the Wirtshaus restaurant next door spotted the huge obstruction that came to rest in the middle of Hampstead Street. The couple skidded around the ball, then swerved into a snowbank. There were no serious injuries to the motorists, but the culprits were called to the principal’s office and parents were notified. No snowballs were ever rolled into traffic again.
Once mischief and king of the mountain were removed from the winter agenda, my options withered:
While we enjoyed years of extreme sledding at the Merrimack Valley Golf Club as a kid, injuries to the course and human bodies led to a banning of that activity. A few years ago my wife Jen and I took our older daughter Geni to the slopes of the Alexander-Carr Park in Derry. There we sailed off a mogul and landed on tail bones, effectively altering our ability to walk upright for weeks.
If we absolutely have to skate, we can visit Salem’s Icenter where our odds of plunging through the ice are slightly less than at our backyard pond. Even though the family of homeless beavers would just love that.
I’m good for at least one hernia hoisting Frosty’s enormous head onto its tilting body. And a scolding for once again placing the carrot and two lumps of coal in an unauthorized area to illustrate that our creation is, without a doubt, male.
While still an adventurous teen, I overlooked the usual safety protocols at Nashoba Valley Ski Area when I snapped my Colonial-era shoes onto skinny, cross-country skis. As you know, cross-country skis were never, ever, ever designed for downhill skiing. They don’t even make sense on flat surfaces. Snowmobiles will get you where need to go without shoving off from bamboo poles. Nevertheless, I tucked said poles under my arms, crouched and aimed straight for the bottom of the slope. No time-wasting zig-zagging for this boy. About two-thirds into my record-setting descent, one of my skis hit something or someone, which sent me spiraling down the mountain like that poor dude on the “Wild World of Sports.” The only thing that passed me were the remains of my skis.
I landed in a heap unhurt and unmotivated to ever ski anywhere except on water. And now that spring is closing in, I can stash the snow boots and dust off the water ski and wakeboard.
If you should spot someone like me wakeboarding through a stranger’s living room, by all means toss me a map and point me in the direction of the Merrimack River.