"Gladly Lerne, Gladly Teche" is the personal web log of John V. Fleming, the Louis W. Fairchild Professor of English and Comparative Literature emeritus at Princeton University. It continues in its title and its spirit his one-time newspaper column in The Daily Princetonian. As a general rule a new post is mounted every Wednesday morning (EST).
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
The Darling Buds of -- February?
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the
darling buds of May, And summer's lease hath all
too short a date…
scientists are forever warning against the use of “anecdotal evidence,” but it
is often the most telling kind. It
is hard to convince me of the reality of Global Warming or even her slightly less
apocalyptic sibling, Climate Change, on the basis of “computer projections”
that no teacher on earth can explain to me. Anecdote, on the other hand, I generally grasp with ease.
spent most of my younger life in warm climes, the first time I was ever on ice
skates was right here in Princeton, N. J.
It was in the winter of 1961-62, during the year I spent in graduate
school here. We skated on frozen
Lake Carnegie, along with what seemed like half the town. The scene was happy and carefree, a
kind of upper middle class version of Breughel. While I struggled to stay vertical on my borrowed skates, my
friend and classmate Chuck Fish, a Vermont native, dazzled us with his easy
hockey-player moves, which included an effortless backwards glide.
and then again
returned to Princeton permanently in 1965 as a member of the faculty. We lived at first in one of the
high-rise apartment buildings, named for a defunct one-time president of the
university, next to the lake. I
have many happy memories of that age, not least among them skating on the lake. We lived atop a column of apartments at
the bottom of which lived the young family of Bart Giammati, later President of
Yale and later still Commissioner of Baseball. We used to get the Giammatis’ kitchen smells (always
delicious) up the shared ventilation shaft. Skating on the lake was so thoroughly established a custom
that the apartment dwellers’ association had formed a standing committee
charged with its organization and regulation.
pass. Life goes on. We move to the center of town and then
again, in the late 1980s, to a house of our own not far from the lake. While I can offer you no statistics I
can tell you with certainty that in no more than half a dozen years in the last
quarter century has there been a sustained freeze convincing enough to the local
police authorities to allow even a day’s skating. In many winters the lake has not frozen over at all.
think I did see a thin crust for half a day last month, of a strength that
might have supported a heavy water fowl.
We did have two snow falls.
The first seemed fairly sensational since it came early enough in the
autumn that there was still enough unfallen foliage to wreak
havoc with the trees. I have
no sharp memory of the second, in midwinter, but it cannot have amounted to
much. I tend to measure things now
in terms of an idiosyncratic index of personal foot-pound expenditure. Shoveling out our large driveway after the second snowfall barely raised a sweat. Où sont les neiges d'antan?
There are other
interesting indications. We have
been as lavish as possible in using the fireplace, but my winter woodpile seems
only slightly smaller than I left it in October. Many of the days in February have been so warm as to invite
me into the garden to begin a desultory and seriously premature “spring”
clean-up in the thin winter sunlight.
It is not I alone who am confused.
Some of the clusters of snow drops in the yard have been in what seems
like continual bloom since the late autumn. Our forsythia buds are swelling. On campus some of the bushes are in bloom. The daffodils are coming up, and some of the crocuses are
already in bloom. Not to mention
the japonica. The weather forecast
for today is “Wintry Mix”. I never
thought I could welcome such a prediction with something akin to enthusiasm,
but I have to say my feeling is “About time!”
want to respect the limitations of my anecdotal evidence. I declare myself innocent of all
extrapolation. I confine myself to
the past two decades, and to a single modest sized county in central New
Jersey. I make no global claims,
and I draw no conclusions from my flaming shrubbery concerning the wisdom or
unwisdom of drilling for oil in Alaska or launching a Manhattan Project for the
exploitation of algae. However,
there are certain things that you cannot help noticing.