Guest Column: Let’s not wish these winter days away

02/15/2015 7:00 AM |

The advantages (or disadvantages) of social media include experiencing the sentiments of people in places where you once lived. I’m in Maine now, but in the last month I’ve experienced the devastation of my former friends and family back home on the North Fork. The feelings on the above-average snowfall have turned from fleeting enjoyment to abject horror. I’ve watched and listened with a particular interest as a person to whom several feet of snow has become not only normal, but a source of pure enjoyment.

As a child growing up on the North Fork, snow only meant potential time off from school. In the late ’80s and early ’90s there were several winters that supported long periods of below-freezing temperatures and above-average snowfall, first leading to my affinity for the season of difficulty.

I would like to share some tips, based on my experience living in the American eastern tundra of Maine, about how to enjoy (yes, enjoy!) this time of year.

1. Embrace the moment. Winter is truly fleeting when looking at the length of the year. It is but a blip in the seasonal flow, and no time should be wished to pass fast!

2. Falls. As a physician, I know fully that this is the time of year when people injure themselves. Sometimes you cannot escape the ice. Mini crampons or ice grippers for your shoes can help you walk across sheer ice, on flat or slopes, with the grace of Fred Astaire on the stage. (For younger readers, Fred Astaire was your grandparents’ version of Usher.) There are several brands I can highly recommend, my favorite being Kahtoola microspikes. You can even purchase crampons for canes and crutches! At the very minimum, some grip — dirt, sand or rock salt — can help.

3. Shoveling. Your run-of-the-mill shovel is not great for your back. Even the youngest of us property owners (or cheap help) don’t have the technique or back muscles to get through a few hours of shoveling. The “scoop” shovel (as the “Mainahs” call it), which can be found online as a sled shovel or snow sled, has saved my back and made shoveling fun. It is a large push-and-scoop-type shovel that functions like a miniature plow. Then again, a friend or landscaper with a plow on their truck would be your best bet, unless you’re looking for a free gym for the winter.

4. Snow tires. They’re as good as all-wheel or four-wheel-drive. I drive regularly on dirt roads that are snow and ice covered. A front-wheel-drive car with two snow tires on the front can outperform a heavy SUV with semi-worn tires.

5. Roof maintenance. If you have more than 12 inches of snow — especially wet snow — on your roof, you are asking for trouble. There are roof rakes that you can buy to get snow off, or ask your least-favorite family member to get up there with a shovel.

6. Clothing. Cotton is terrible. Jeans and other cotton clothing get wet and stay wet. Wool is better. Synthetic fibers are even better. Fluff (down or loose layers) with an outer hard shell is the best. If you sweat a lot, down can be detrimental since it loses insulation capability when wet. Synthetic inner layers are better for those who sweat a lot. Bigger boots with a layer of synthetic or wool socks are better than wearing several layers of socks with a tight boot. As for hands, mittens keep your hands warmer than gloves.

7. Enjoy the weather! In the past, North Forkers loved ice boating, but climate change has reduced the likelihood of a frozen bay. Sledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are all great ways to get a workout. The frozen margins of the Great Peconic Bay are a rarity. The beach on Long Island Sound is a completely different animal in the winter; a constant shifting of sand and impression. Don’t worry; in a short time the good weather and tourists will return. Appreciate your frozen solitude, you hearty North Forkers!

Dennis Claire graduated from Mattituck High School in 1997 and is now adventuring and raising a family with his wife, Lindsay, in central Maine.

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