In the autumn of 1996, Norm Benjamin appeared at my kitchen door and told me he had come to say “goodbye.” Our family had moved to Connecticut from California six months earlier and Norm was one of my few friends. We had worked together fashioning a garden around the newly built house, planted trees, installed a raised bed for growing vegetables. It was Norm who taught me about frost heaves, the mud season, hardy perennials and Swamp Yankees—all new concepts for a West Coast native—and he was a good friend, besides, so I was distressed at his leaving.
“Are you moving away?” I asked.
He shook his head; I recognized the incredulity with which most locals greeted my cluelessness. “No. It’s the end of October. I’ll see you when winter’s over.”
It seemed odd, since we lived three blocks apart, but that was before I understood it wasn’t only the leaves that left by the beginning of November. The comforting night sounds of crickets, cicadas, and katydids were silenced. The ever-present, annoying mosquitos disappeared, too, but so did most of the neighborhood birds. All that remained were a few drab sparrows, winter-plumaged finches and—a life-saver for the Seasonally Affective Disordered—cheery red cardinals. Garden magazines carried articles about choosing plants for bark color to add “winter interest”—a depressing concept, if ever there was one. Then the sun set early—really, really early. By 4:00 p.m. the sky began to darken. By 4:30 I had to turn the lights on.
The natives had terms for all varieties of winter weather: sometimes the sky was only “spitting” snow; other times we endured Nor-easters, ice storms, power outages that meant not only loss of electricity but also water, because the well had an electrical pump. I began to wonder why anyone ever chose to settle in New England. By February even Florida seemed appealing.
That was many years ago. In time, Norm retired, the kids went off to college and I, belatedly, grew up, too. I stopped hating winter (well, except for January and February) and began to enjoy Snow Days, the “bones” of my leafless garden and flannel sheets. In California, one season slid into another and I scarcely noticed. All that counted was if it rained or not. In New England, I learned to appreciate the austere snowscape as well as the extravagant summer foliage. That appreciation is all the keener because winter is so long. I’d like to think that I’ve become accustomed to friends’ leaving, too; it would be a pat, inspirational way to end this musing. That’s not true, though. The best I can do is to remember that with losses comes the anticipation of new friends, different landscapes and other adventures–after an appropriate wait, of course. And for those of you who are impatient, there’s always Florida.
Note: I publish this “From the Archives” every Fall. Norm died nearly two years ago and I still miss him and all that he taught me.