After nine weeks of skittering across a frozen crust of snow twice a day while walking the dog at the park, I dig out my Yaktrax, those amazing rubber-and-metal traction contraptions that wrap around the bottom of your shoes. I walk with increased confidence, but no joy. Wearing Yaktrax feels like I have raised the white flag of surrender.
My grandmother Nancy taught me the phrase in like a lion, out like a lamb. It was during one of those abnormally cold winters of the 1970s in New York City, when the weather itself was seen as a force contributing to the city's social and economic downfall. As a child, however, you don't know from normal. Had it snowed for weeks on end I would not have suspected climatic oddity, just the pleasure to be out of school and making myself hypothermic spending long days in sub-freezing conditions, playing the sanctioned and unsanctioned forms of roughhouse with the kids in the neighborhood.
As a seven-year-old, I struggled with the phrase in like a lion, out like a lamb. My grandmother was telling me that the weather, which I had regarded previously as a neutral force, was, in fact, a mega-predator that would transform itself into a young sheep by the end of the month. This mystery was deepened by the teachings of the Catholic Church, which refers to Jesus as the lamb of God, the sacrificial being who died for our sins. My disordered thinking about March went something like this: March is a ferocious lion who lives in Africa and turns into a fleecy lamb who may or may not be Jesus. That we ate lamb on Easter Sunday, which falls in early April, didn't help my confusion.
An artist shows up at my office carrying a four-by-six-foot painting. He asks if we would consider it for the cover of the magazine. I take a picture of it with my phone and send it to David, the creative director, for consideration. The artist then hands me a sketch of myself, drawn from my headshot in the magazine. He offers it as a gift. I pin it to the wall behind my desk.
While I'm out for lunch, my coworkers all try and sketch me from my headshot. They pin them to the wall behind my desk next to the original. (It's always unnerving to see what you look like through someone else's eyes.) My favorite is by Jason Cring, art director of Upstate House, who gives me a New Wave/comic book treatment, as if I had just stepped out of the video for A-ha's "Take on Me." I decide to use it as my head shot in the magazine.
March is the 349th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th-century worldwide average. I have lunch with someone who believes that there is not enough data to definitively define the warming trend we are experiencing as human-caused climate change. In Kingston, the high today will be 23 degrees.
It's 18 degrees at 6:30 am and there's a 15-mile-an-hour wind whipping off the Hudson, but the cold feels forced, vitiated. Like a man at a party who spends the evening putting the moves on a woman. She politely declines his advances, but as he's leaving he makes one more pass at her. Not because he thinks the outcome of his interaction will be any different, but for form's sake. It's what he's supposed to do.
I may be reading too much into the weather.
This winter feels classic, the kind of weather you'd find in a 19th-century Russian novel. The word droshky keeps coming to mind.
It is the first day of spring. I search for signs of it. The ground, still half-covered in snow, offers no hints of shoots or bulbs. A cardinal tussles with two robins in the row of the thicket of privet in the backyard.
We all have our favorite silly joke. How many Latvians does it take to screw in a light bulb, that kind of thing. Mine is the one about the horse who walks into a bar. What can I say? Horses have long faces and I'm terrified of them (horses, not long faces), so I find a bartender asking a horse "Why the long face?" absurdly side-splitting on many levels. Through the rabbit hole of Facebook, I end up on the website of the literary journal McSweeney's, reading "Franz Kafka's Joke Book," by John McNamee. In this version of the joke, the horse gets last word:
A horse walks into a bar. The bartender asks, "Why the long face?"
"I was born into servitude, and when I die, my feet will be turned into glue," replies the horse.
The bartender realizes he will not be getting a tip.
I don't usually sport a beard, but I've got a bushy one now. In the throes of February's brutish cold, I decided to grow a beard and not shave it off until the mercury reaches 70. This seemed one of the few avenues available to me of expressing my displeasure with the cold, aside from just shaking my fist at the sky or lashing the snow banks with a whip like Xerxes scourging the Hellespont.
The FedEx guy is wearing shorts. It's almost noon and it is 25 degrees outside.
March is a stubborn lion.