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Molnar: Silver Solace

03/09/12 5:55PM By Martha Molnar
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(Host) Given a free choice to move anywhere, most people would choose warm, sunny climates. Commentator and former New York Times reporter, Martha Molnar, is a public relations and freelance writer who moved to Vermont precisely for its cold, snowy winters - only to be disappointed.

(Molnar) I hate it when people say, oh so cheerfully, "At least it's not snowing!" Sure, no snow is wonderful when the world is filled with the colors of spring, or summer, or fall. But what's so great about no snow in winter?

My Husband and I moved to Vermont in large part for its snowy winters. We moved from 200 miles south where winters were exactly like this winter has mostly been here. Gray trees, gray air, gray clouds. Sodden earth, dripping trees.

We craved snow. Snow falling, snow drifting, snow crystals filling icy, sunny air. We wanted to ski across frozen lakes and snowshoe in powdery woods. We were thrilled to find a double slope for sledding right on our property. And now, after one good and two ho-hum winters, we get this one. Some parts of the state did get snow in early March, but around here, we've been deep into mud season for weeks.

My whining, of course, pales in comparison with the harsh economic impact suffered by businesses that depend on snow.

I haven't lived here long enough to remember the strings of 30 below days that old-timers say were regular events. Nor the rare so-called "green" winters. But this winter has felt oddly menacing. It may be a normal aberration. But as the second warmest winter on record, it's a reminder of the changes that even newcomers like us have noticed. Nurseries selling plants for a zone warmer than what used to be considered safe. The still fresh memory of my eggplants and tomatoes ripening through mid October. Maple sugaring buckets out by late February, starting and ending the season earlier.

At a recent Science Pub gathering in Castleton, climate scientist Alan Betts confirmed these personal observations with scientific indicators such as freeze dates, the length of the growing season, even the first leaf of lilacs, a traditional indicator of early spring. All show a pattern of a warming climate in Vermont during the past 50 years. I began to wonder if perhaps we should have moved further north, maybe a lot further, to say, Alaska ?

So I had about given up, and was actually beginning to look forward to mud season, when along comes a week of frigid nights and dry, cold days. One morning, slivers of distant lakes glimmer through the kitchen window. Frozen, I realize, and free of snow!

We spend half the morning digging out our rusty skates. I barely keep from flooring the gas pedal on the drive to our favorite lake. We check that the ice is safe. Then, after a few awkward pushes we're skimming, nearly in flight. Emboldened by speed, by the brilliant shafts of sunlight on the ice, by a sense of weightlessness and vertigo, we circle and crisscross the lake until we collapse once again on the shore.

This isn't exactly the winter we expected. But for me it's a silver lining in a mostly snowless winter. And once again, we are happy to be here.

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