A scene from mid-August on any given year. We open with yours truly standing waist deep in the ocean at Old Orchard Beach, ever mindful of sharks. 

“Late summer already,” I’ll say to the old man, harried mother or snorkled kid wading a few feet away. “Before you know it, it will be fall with winter right behind it. It’s depressing to me, but by gum, I’m not going to succumb to it this year. No sir. This time around, I’m going to make the best of it. I’m going to embrace winter and kiss her frigid majesty right on her cold blue lips. I’m going to …” 

At this point, a hulking lifeguard typically splashes over to tell me to stop muttering at beachgoers, it’s freaking them out. 

So a little later, sitting near the pier and eating french fries sprayed with seagull guano, I’ll scoot toward the drunken sweaty guy sitting a few feet away. 

“That’s right,” I’ll tell him, as though he was part of the conversation all along. “I’m going big this winter. Maybe I’ll get myself a set of skis and enjoy the eye-watering joy of tearing at high speed down rolling hills. And maybe a snowmobile, too, so I can get out in the forests and glide across frozen lakes. I might even — are you going to finish that doughboy? — get myself some snowshoes and reconnect with the ways of our rugged forebears who conquered the snowy expanses in which we now live. And ice skating, bro. Pond hockey, just like back in the day. The sound of blades tearing through the ice, the cold air in your burning lungs, the thrill of trying to catch up with a puck that dances across every bump and crack on that frozen lake. Yessir. That’s the way to take on winter.” 

Here, the baffle-faced fellow with the doughboy, clearly impressed by my commitment to overcoming the mean season, turns to me and says: “Quoi?” 

But whatever. Come late summer, I’m sanguine about my chances of finally enjoying winter for a change — enjoying it the way I did when I was a boy and every day was a thrill of sleds and skates and snowballs hucked at the unwary. 

Then — well, you know. Mid-August becomes late September while you’re still cleaning the sand out of your shorts and suddenly winter isn’t some far-off uncertainty to be reckoned with later, it’s right at your door, jaws a-snapping

“Dang it,” I’ll sputter to some L.L.Bean-clad leaf-peeper I encounter in the woods. “Here it is fall already and I haven’t got a snowmobile. Or skis. Or snowshoes. I think I have some skates somewhere — CCM, they are — but they’re probably buried beneath a mountain of junk in the basement. Forget all those highfalutin’ plans, I guess. What I really need to do — I pause here for dramatic effect. It’s really quite stunning — is move to Florida.” 

Ah, yes, Florida. The palm-strewn utopian dream of every winter malcontent who finds himself absolutely unable to cope with the idea of another six months of yard-shoveling, windshield-scraping, oil- tank-filling and teeth-chattering pain. Not to mention the looming threat of frostbite and lost toes.

Every year come fall, I succumb to lurid daydreams in which I hurl my shovel into the street, climb into my truck and just start driving south, without so much as a change of socks, until I start seeing palm trees and bikinis. 

And yet every year come fall, I find myself going absolutely nowhere, instead. Heaving frosty sighs, I end up picking up the shovel again, along with the bucket of sand, the windshield scraper and that bluing big toe that some poor fool lost in my driveway. I hope it isn’t mine, but I can’t feel my feet so it’s impossible to know for sure. 

Every single year since my early 20s, I’ve been telling myself these lies at the end of each fleeting summer. Every single year, I find myself right here on the tundra when the first snowflakes begin to blow. I don’t know what it is that keeps people like me grounded here with feet frozen to the ground. At first it might be simple laziness or a lack of planning. Later on, commitments and other irksome grown-up stuff make leaving harder still. It’s the kind of inertia that comes when your heart whispers exotic lies to your brain and the rest of you is just too cold and weary to do much of anything about it. 

Or something. I dunno. I’m just getting in from battling frozen snowbanks in front of the house and I’m a bit lightheaded. For a long moment, I just stood out there leaning on my bent and twisted shovel and gazing off toward the south, dreams of palm trees, bikinis (I’ll have to work at it a bit to fit into one) and scorching hot sand dancing in my head. 

“Next year,” I muttered to the postman. “Next year I’m going for sure.” 

“Yep,” he said at once. “That’s what I’ve been telling myself going on 30 years now. Next year, I too am going for sure. Say … have you seen my big toe?”


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