Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Twelve Sounds of Maine Winter

One is the woomph of a frozen pond. The water moves beneath the ice and the whole lake goes werrrp, a deep, warping groan, like something from outer space. The dogs stand at the edge of the ice, snow on their black ears, and growl at it.

Two is the plow guy, doing the driveway in the middle of the night. The heavy blade scrapes against the asphalt, the tires spinning around as our man revs his engine high enough to push the snow. I think about our plow guy, Jared, when the snow is deep, how he spends hour after hour in that truck, driving around from house to house when everyone’s asleep. I feel bad when there are two storms right in a row, and Jared has to get right back out on the road and do the job all over again. There are some winters when I think he never sleeps at all.

Three is the sound of a frozen stream, the merry sound of cold water rushing against ice, like some strange music, full of motion and hope. A strange contrast to the ice-bound world.

Four is the shush of skis against new snow as the cross country skiers glide through woods, across fields, down hills. Their heaving breath comes out in clouds.

Five is a car stuck in a snowbank, the tires spinning around and around. Car doors open, and close. There’s cursing.

Six is the sound of Storm Center on television, early in the morning, from a room downstairs. There’s a sudden cheer, followed by the patter of young feet on the stairs. The kids run into the bedroom and announce, “No School!” Then the parents sit up in bed and groan as they imagine every last thing they had planned for that day instantly disappearing.

Seven is a maul chunking against the top of the log as the wood splits into two nice even pieces. I usually split wood in the basement, so sometimes the tip of the maul ticks against the cement floor in the follow through. Then I split the two pieces I just made into four, and sometimes the four into eight. The smaller the piece of wood is, the higher the pitch as it falls to the floor. Clunk.

Eight is the birds, the few of them that remain. I hear them in the morning as I go down the dark driveway to get the newspaper: black-capped chickadees, northern cardinals, ruby crowned kinglets, Bohemian waxwings. They sound cold.

Nine is a car left car outside. Return to the car to find a crust of ice on the windshield. So out comes the scraper. Sometimes—on a good day-- the crud slides right off. Other times you have to get serious, prying off that ice like you’re scraping burnt chocolate off a frying pan with a spatula. How big does the hole you chop have to be in order for you to drive the car? Sometimes I see drivers peeking through tiny portholes, like they’re driving a tank.

Ten is a snowmobile, heading across Great Pond, here in Belgrade Lakes. Sometimes there’s a whole group of them, making a sound like a swarm of angry bees. Other times it’s just one guy. Late in the day I see them all parked outside the Sunset Grill in Belgrade, a basketball game on the TV, glasses of Irish coffee lined up on the bar.

Eleven is an icicle falling off the rain gutter and shattering on the driveway in a thousand pieces. Once, one fell on my head, and I looked upwards, angrily, and cursed the sky.

Twelve: In the middle of the night the power goes out and I’m suddenly woken by the shocking sound of nothing at all. I’m warm beneath the covers, though, and the family is safe beneath our roof, the two grownups, the two boys, even the wicked oscars swimming in the fish tank. While we were sleeping, the dogs have jumped up in the bed again. All warm and soft, the younger dog barks at some imaginary cat, in some dog dream.

I lie there for a while in my dark house, in a sleepy kind of wonder, and listen.


  1. Jenny your writing is so enjoyable to read. How cool that you are blogging here. It's like finding great music in the bargain bins.

    Thanks for sharing a bit of your life in Maine. Here in the Sierras of California our Christmas snow has already melted at our level. My favorite snow sound is that sort of muffled crunch as you walk over freshly fallen snow.

    It always brings a smile when I wake up to the sound of the snow plow scraping by and hearing my daughter whoop, "woo hoo it's a snow day".

  2. I love number twelve, the silence of darkness. Why, in the middle of our deep sleep during a winter night we awake to the silence of the power going out? There is no sound, just what few lights in the house or outside in the neighborhood go dark. Does our brain remember the sound of the night and it stirs when darkness happens?

    We get windstorms here in the Pacific Northwest during the winter and we average 3-4 power outages per winter, occasionally during the night as storms pass through. I'm always intriqued that I wake up for a few moments, like my mind needs confirmation of what it experience, yes, the power went out. Then it's back to sleep, blessed with the wool blanket and down comforter over me.

  3. Thanks for sharing this as so much of what you said is foreign to someone living here in the south. We had a few snow showers today, a light dusting on the grass and that was it. Years and years ago, winter was a bit more common than it is now and how I long for those days. Last March, Old Man Winter came back for a visit and dropped 15 inches on us. This year, no such luck.