“This is the winter of our discontent.” John Steinbeck, 1961.
When I was a child, winter’s sucked. I remember wanting to go out in the snow and once I got out there, wanting to go back inside. I have never liked the cold. But I have always lived in the cold. In the 60’s and 70’s the Michigan Licence Plates always had “Water Winter Wonderland” on them. I always found that rather different, but then my childhood was different.
But this isn’t about that. It’s about THIS winter. A brutal, brutish, unrelenting stream of polar vortex’s and snow unlike any in my memory. The New Years’ Day Blizzard in 1966, the December blizzard in 1974, the Ice Storm in 1978, those are events that you remember, but this winter is the most singular because it has affected everything and every one of us in North America.
From the drought in California to the Great Lakes nearly frozen over for the first time in 35 years, this winter has been one for the record books. The expected high today (Wednesday, Feb. 26) is 16, tomorrow, 14. (-12 C) Tomorrow night’s low is supposed to be -8 (-22 C). The normal high this time of year is supposed to be 40 (5 C).
People can’t get rock salt. It doesn’t work in these temperatures anyhow. They have started advising people to buy kitty litter and sand. It is like “Doomsday Preppers”, except with the weather. Weird stuff. Except now, we’re all in it.
Back in December, I went to California for nearly two weeks. When I came home, it was your typical December weather. Right after Christmas it warmed up to about 50 degrees. I went out for lunch with a friend on the 28th. Little did I know it would be almost 40 days until I left the house again. The last day I was out? Feb. 8, when I went to see my Doctor. I’m supposed to go out tomorrow. We’ll see.
I went nearly half-a-month (12 days) without mail. The snow began to fall. Five inches, then 7, then 11. Snow up to my door. Wind-chill factor’s -20, 30 below zero. We are close to 79 inches of snow. The record is 93.3, set in 1880-81, the year that Benjamin Harrison was elected and sworn in as President and my great-grandmother hadn’t even been born yet.
Of course, the Right-wing nut jobs have come out in full force on this. Jobba the Rush said “There’s (chomp) no such (chomp, chomp) thing as a polar vortex.” And Al Rocker pulled out his college textbook to tell Flush to “Stuff it!!!” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5k4Xz65zjU
My brother got caught in it and he lives in Alabama. He had to go pick up his daughter (my youngest niece) from school. Because they don’t plan for these kind of storms, the state was ill-equipped to deal with the storm that blew through the Birmingham area last month. He ended up driving four-and-a-half hours with what is normally a 15-minute drive. Ended up spending the night at the school. The school didn’t let anyone out until 10 Am the next day. Even then, it was a two-and-a-half hour ride home.
Climate change is not the same as weather. Climate change affects the weather. This polar vortex will eventually recede and spring will come. When? Well, that’s the $64,000 question.
The winter has affected my mood. I have lost weight. I have slept a lot. I am tired. Not just physically tired either. Emotionally, psychology tired. I have tried to keep a sense of humor about it, but it is hard. The days all seem the same. Even the Olympics got boring after a while. I feel like a prisoner in my own home. I have a friend who says I should have stayed in California. I told him, send me $3000 and I’ll be on the next plane out.
Right now, the sun is out at 10 am. It is, according to the weather app on my phone, six degrees outside. (Wind chill -4) There was a time, not that long ago, that weather wouldn’t stop me. I had places to go, classes to attend, interviews, deadlines, dates, games to attend and cover. Not even snow could stop me.
“The Winter of Our Discontent” was Steinbeck’s last novel. It’s protagonist, Ethan, is a man obsessed with getting his good name back after his father lost the family store. He becomes borderline paranoid and seeks revenge against those whom he sees wronged his family. The bank, the community, the man who brought the store at auction from the bank at pennies on the dollar. Ethan is out looking to restore his family’s good name and his father’s honor. He suspects the store’s owner is an illegal immigrant and reports it. After reclaiming the store and acquiring land needed to build an airport through less-than-honest means, the pressure gets to be to much for him after his friend’s “accidental” death, drive him to the brink, only to be saved by his daughter.
Ethan gets saved by his daughter. His “winter” is more psychological than a real winter. This is a real winter for many of us. People have died because of this winter. Winter usually comes in like the tides. The ebb and the flow. The sustained nastiness of this winter is the wrath of Mother Nature and the first warning shot for human beings to clean up our act.