We've seen a little of everything up here in the hills this winter -- an ice storm in October, long before winter set in, in fact, and a couple of dustings of snow, and one 3- or 4-in snow, gone in just a few days, and a frozen fog a week ago. But the main thing we have seen this winter -- in the bleak mid-winter, as the poem and song put it -- is a lot of sun. Say hallelujah.
Today, like so many days this strange but welcome season, has been gorgeous. Cool, for sure. We got up around 41 before the temp started sinking back into its hole, but the skies have been clear and many nights we've seen the brightest winter star shows ever. Well, of course, part of this is because this is the first time we've lived this close to the stars. Back in Raleigh where we lived since the mid-1970s, we saw only a bit of the night sky as we walked the dogs up toward Millbrook Road -- and much of that was dimmed by the bright lights of the 10,000 or so shopping centers of the Cap City and their incessant incandescents. Or sodium vapors. Or mercury vapors.
Two years ago the ground here was buried under snow and ice for months on end. Last year we had a few sizable snows and a cold spell that made my knees seize. This year our severest weather has been rain -- blessed, welcome, rain. Sometimes coming down so hard the house seemed to shake. We had a howling screecher of a rain Thursday that put me in mind of Hurricane Fran in 1996 and Hazel when it blew through my hometown of Greensboro in 1954. We were almost grateful for Hazel because the worst drought in decades had hit the Piedmont that year. Hazel wrought destruction and took lives up and down the East Coast, but it also ended the drought.
The winter rainstorms up here have also ended our mountaintop drought, at least temporarily. Our leaky pond has as much water in it as I have seen since early 2010. The springhouse, so nearly dry in early fall, is now full of water. As I walk along the brier-choked creek that feeds the pond, the sound of rushing water is a reminder that soon enough spring will work its way into our consciousness again, and in time there will be sandwich-grade tomatoes again.
Spring has already sent out its first skirmishers. Down by the old house in the bottom, scores of daffodils have sent up green shoots. I know, in my mind, that this happens everywhere as winter moves along -- a few warm days, and bulbs put out harbingers of one thing or another. But it still knocks me out every winter when I see the first hazy, dim signs that one season will end and another begin, all in due time. I'm a sucker for this, and freely admit it. I also get excited when I see a deer, or a flock of turkeys. It never gets old with me.
We know better than to get overly excited. A few years ago we had a remarkably warm spell in March, -- some days in the 80s, and buds were popping out all over. Then came a bitterly cold spell that ruined an entire season for blueberries, apples and raspberries, and even slowed the normally generous asparagus patch. This is the price you pay for living in a paradise, willingly paid even when you don't know how the tab will run.
So we'll take this winter as it come, grateful for these lovely, crisp days and spectacular nights. By the fireside we pore over the seed catalogs and the spring training schedule for the Grapefruit League -- the Orioles surely will need me this season -- and study the offerings for chartering sailcraft on the Chesapeake, when the waters warm and the southwesterlies promise a beam reach all the way up to Baltimore.