Something to look forward to



 "Redbud Tree in Bottomload,'' photo by ELIOT PORTER, at the Portland Museum of Art (but photo is copyrighted by Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Forth Worth) in the Portland Museum's show "American Vision: Photographs from the Collection of Owen and Anna Wells''.

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Jan. 7, 2014

Cold morning today but far from the "polar vortex'' catastrophe that  it's being made out to be by the news media because their denizens think that  nothing much else is going on. Of course, lots of stuff is going on but it bores those reporters and editors who haven't yet been laid off in the ferment caused by the triumph of mostly ''free'' information on the Internet. And maybe the public doesn't care all that much either.

Most importantly, "polar vortex'' sounds like a horror-movie monster. Very sexy. More vortexes to come because global warming is screwing up the jet stream? Too early to say with scientific assurance.

It's all rather typical of January, the coldest month. But  February is often the snowiest  because warm wet air begins to edge north again, setting up conflict with the cold air. Great for creating  Nor'easters! Arctic air and the Gulf Stream can be in explosive proximity.

As I walked the dog this morning I enjoyed the crunch of my feet on the thin layer of snow that had fallen overnight as the front swung through from Canada,  bringing a snow squall or two.  And the frozen  trees were creaking. Too cold to be slippery! The problem in the coastal Northeast is the wind. It can  make urban walking miserable. When I lived in the Upper Connecticut River Valley, the temperature could be much colder than in Boston, Providence, New York and Philadelphia but the comfort level much higher because there was much less wind and it was very, very dry. Sort of exhilarating  -- bright and almost antiseptically clean.

Meanwhile, along the lines of ever-more "nurturing'' of children by parents and schools (at the ones I attended we were often called by our last names and there wasn't much open concern for our feelings), is the practice of clothing our dogs for winter walks,  even outside of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I must confess that my wife and I have adopted this habit. The dog, a rescue mutt from San Antonio (via "Alamo Rescue''), fought having a coat on at the start but has since accepted it -- especially when  it's windy.

My most physically painful memories of winter are in the streets of big cities with the northwest wind squeezing between the high buildings.

When it's really, really cold,  ice is  so sticky that you don't even worry about driving up and down steep snow-covered hills. A few times I had to drive my  drunken mother to a drying-up spa at a place called Beech Hill Farm, on top of a mountain in Dublin, N.H. -- the little town where Yankee magazine was, and is, put out and where Mark Twain spent some happy times. If it was the winter, I'd pray for very cold weather.  Around freezing was the most insidious,  with a thin layer of melting in the sun, then quick refreezing toward evening.

The dramatic freeze-thaw  cycles in New England  make skiing more, well, exciting here than on the dusty, dry "powder snow'' promoted by resorts in the Rockies. Skiing in the White and Green mountains is much more of a challenge to muscles and nerves than is skiing at, say, Taos.

Anyway, I long for late February, when sun-facing cars and rooms suddenly seem to start to warm up  much faster  as the sun gets stronger. Even on a very cold day last week, I found the stone on a southwest-facing wall remarkably warm. We really do need to do a lot more with passive solar heating.