Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Wheelchair Winters

note: click on any of the photos to enlarge

Snowfall in this part of Maine begins in December and can linger through early April – a full third of the year. Before I was diagnosed with MS I had no sympathy for the snow haters. My mantra was, “If you don’t enjoy the winters in Maine, then you shouldn’t live here.”
Those of us from northern climates have fond childhood memories of the snow. If you want to witness joy in its purest form, take some children with lots of energy and imagination (which is almost every child), gently toss them into a fluffy, white snowbank, and watch what happens.
From grade school through college, winter was all about downhill skiing for me. There were no major ski areas near our house in Lincoln, but we were a short drive from a short mountain, called Mount Jefferson. There were maybe eight trails; one clunky, old T-bar; and one rope tow. We didn’t care. We had a lot of fun anyway. Unlike at the large ski areas that most people frequent, skiing here was a very intimate experience. We kept running into the same people all day long, and all winter long. Naturally, Mount Jefferson became the setting for much of my clumsy romantic maneuvering, almost always for naught.
In college, Kim and I purchased season’s passes to Sugarloaf Mountain, a major resort in Western Maine, about two hours away from the University of Maine. We paid $110 for the discounted student pass. During one winter I was completing an internship at a paper mill not far from Sugarloaf, so Kim hitched rides there with Cookie and Shostak, my fraternity brothers, and we would meet for the weekend.
After college, we moved to Ohio and Vermont for a few years and continued skiing sporadically. Soon after we moved back to Maine I took up snowmobiling, and my skis only gathered dust in the basement from that point forward.
Driving my snowmobile down a freshly-groomed trail on a cold, crisp morning was the closest experience I ever had to flying. I don’t mean flying like a plane. I mean flying like a bird.
When I was in that zone, crafting seamless turns at the maximum safe speed, or just slightly above, there was nothing like it. Puttering along at a slower pace and taking in the scenery was nice too, but that was not the experience I craved. My ideal ride was at once sublime and exhilarating: reading poetry while hanging on the edge of a cliff…eating crème brûlée in a hurricane.
I was hopelessly addicted to the endorphin rush of high-performance, cross-country snowmobiling. But it ended in 2008, when I could no longer operate a snowmobile because of my MS. This may have been for the best anyway. Being a husband and father, I didn’t need to wrap myself around a tree in the Maine wilderness at 100 mph. And so I became one of those people who I had pitied and scorned for most of my life. I no longer had any use for the snow, yet I continued to live in Maine.
I’m quite sure Kim and I won’t follow my own advice and live elsewhere. Reason #1 is that summers here are perfect for a person with MS – nice and cool because of ocean breezes. Reason #2 is that Kim’s career is here. Reasons #3 through #100 are the family and friends who we live among. We’re not going anywhere.
Two winters ago the weather was freakishly warm, and it rained when it should have snowed. I was free to cruise the neighborhood in my wheelchairs, with no ice patches or snow banks in my way. If this is global warming, I thought, then bring it on. Last winter turned out to be unusually cold and snowy, including one storm where we received 32 inches of snow. If this is global warming, I thought, then no thank you. The picture to the left is what poor Phoebe woke up to that morning. How was she supposed to go pee?
I understand that the implications from global warming are not straightforward. Climate change may have been more responsible for the cold and snowy winter than it was for the freakishly warm one. Who knows? However, if our trend is toward more winters like two years ago, and there are fewer fluffy, white snowbanks and frigid temperatures in my future, I’m not going to complain.
Don’t worry. I’ll still do my part to save the planet by voting for alternative energy projects, reduced carbon emissions, etc. But at the same time, I’ll be secretly hoping for rainy winter days.


  1. This is one of the blogs that makes me a little sad, I know how much you loved it. We did it too, but not the way you did. Carole

  2. I grew up in Minnesota and I've lived in Montana and my forebears were from Maine so I feel I have a right to speak on the subject of cold and snow. I love it! Even yesterday, when it was 7 below when we got up, I was entranced by the 1" of overnight powder that had draped itself over every twig and branch and pine needle, turning my commute into a Christmas card picture,

    On the other hand, now that I'm scooter-bound for treks longer than 10 feet, the Southwest looks pretty good to me about January 15th. From that point on I'm frantically getting my tax stuff together so we can take off for a place where people whine if it gets as low as 50.

    Whowouldathoughtitofme but there you are!

  3. Carole, it was difficult to sell the snowmobiles five years ago, but I've been over it since then. No sadness here.

    Daphne, you do have impeccable cold and snow credentials! I should've mentioned in my blog post that there's still a kid inside me, and he remains in awe of how the world looks the morning after a storm.

  4. When I was young[er], I, too, loved winter sports, but NJ isn't the snow capital that Maine is. We had to drive up to the Poconos for real adventures.
    Now, I prefer the moderate temps so my MS won't be bothered. We just had a two-day snow event, and I'm not happy with the icy walkways. However, I love watching the kids having so much fun.