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…
                                                                        William Shakespeare

            Social 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.

            Having 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

and now

            I 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.

            Years 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.

            I 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.  Oรน 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!”

            I 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.

 not making much progress