A Yankee Notebook, Columns

We Spent Christmas Huddled in her House

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by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – Most of the time, living as we do at the business end of a climatological bowling alley, we watch our weather approach from the west. This time it was coming at us from the southeast. For over a week we’d been watching the progress of Hurricane Lee as it churned northwestward toward a sideswipe of southern New England and later, landfall in coastal Maine, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland.

It was scheduled to get here the weekend of my girlfriend’s annual apple-picking picnic down in Bolton, Mass. I was, of course, expected to be there, so I would be. Weather glitches in our weekends are so common that we’ve concluded that Thor, the Thunderer, hates us and delights in attempting to derail our plans almost every time. For example, you no doubt remember the great Christmas storm of 2022. We were scheduled to fly to Arkansas that week, but as it turned out, almost nobody was flying anywhere.

We spent Christmas huddled in her house by the ocean listening to the snow and ice pellets bounce off the windward windows and watching icicles form on the seaside rocks. Christmas dinner was Chinese, at Chi Modern Asian Cuisine in Swampscott, where a little robot endearingly like R2D2 delivers takeout from the kitchen in back to the desk up front. Thor, snug in his bearskins, smiled upon our discomfiture. But we made the best of it, which wasn’t too bad at all.

This time I dared him to do his worst, and drove down to Massachusetts in lovely weather on Friday, a day before Lee was supposed to smack the mainland at Cape Cod. The only flies in the ointment were the usual southern New England traffic, wall to wall, with everybody trying to get where he’s going before anybody else can, and Kiki, making her first recreational trip with me and doing her usual best to help with the responsible operation of the car. I can’t tell whether she thinks noisy pickup trucks are prey or predators, but whatever they are, she wants a crack at them.

Apple-picking day was Saturday. I woke up late to a howling at the bedroom window, which looks out across Broad Sound a few miles toward Boston. Lee was here, splashing salt spray against the windows two stories up. Any picnic in an apple orchard anywhere nearby would likely end up somewhere in Maine. Anybody picking would need a second person to hold the bag. I listened while the ladies in charge wisely decided to postpone the operation for a day. Kiki, who’d never seen a storm at sea, lay on a bed gazing at the tossing whitecaps and occasional gull soaring on the wind, and starting occasionally at a loud gust or a very nearby gull. We humans also lay doggo for the day, but went out for Thai that evening.

I’d spent the previous week in preparation for the hurricane, re-reading Joseph Conrad’s “Typhoon,” for decades one of my favorite stories by one of my favorite authors. Conrad must have experienced a typhoon himself. His descriptions of its terrifying suddenness, irresistible strength, and intimations of imminent death are too good to have been imagined.

Sunday, however, dawned warm and clear, as if it had no memory of the storm. The picnic was on (I’m going to suggest that in future years it be designated “picknic”). I had nothing pressing Monday morning, so decided to stay over. We took blankets, a ground tarp, and camp chairs; packed hard bread, prosciutto, half a dozen cheeses, tomatoes, and other goodies that seemed to appear from nowhere, and ventured into the shade of a row of Cortlands for a late lunch. With two lively terriers, a five-year-old boy, and a set of old friends and colleagues, the afternoon passed soothingly. We stopped for ice cream on the way home.

Monday morning, with the hurricane an ever more distant memory, and the work week ahead, it was up-and-at-’em and onto the road. We went our separate ways, the traffic of the going-to-work thousands evoking, as usual, the image of gods other than Thor – in this case the gods of the fossil fuel industry – smiling down upon the four-lane-wide stop-and-go traffic inching toward freedom (in my case, Interstates 93 and 89).

It’s not as if Thor dropped completely out of the picture. It poured rain most of the way, which made the driving a bit dicier, but washed every bit of dried salt spray off Hagar. He arrived home looking as if he’d just come off the showroom floor.

I did not. There was work to do, but first a nap, enlivened a bit by mail and newspapers, emails, phone calls, appointments coming up. Kiki and I snoozed briefly, as usual. I wonder if, like me, she dreamed of howling wind, crashing surf, and spray splatting on the windows.

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