The mass migration of the snowbirds from the coast of New England begins as soon as the lights are out and the holiday celebrations end. They flock to the warmer weather of the southern states in order to escape the cold and snow of winter. Most forgot the beauty of what the cold months demonstrate. For many of us who choose to stay, the magic is just beginning.
The summer months expose people’s souls to anyone interested in observing them. The offseason demonstrates the natural beauty of the coast without the summer people frolicking in it. To me the most exciting observation I can make is becoming part of a coastal storm in the winter. It is remarkably powerful and exciting. Since we live up north, we are ready for them. I still get a kick out of how a southern city is brought to a standstill because of a 3-inch snowfall. For us, anything under a foot of snow is a dusting.
A winter storm on the coast always starts with a lull. Not your ordinary quiet, but a time so peaceful the gulls dare not to scream and the air is so still your footsteps echo in the void. It is a time when all those who live on the coast walk to the water’s edge eager to watch the low tide go even lower in preparation for the waters destined to explode on the beach.
The people are not the only ones who flock to the beach in the lull before the storm. The gulls also come to a collective realization that they must fly to the beach in preparation. They are more courageous than their human counterparts, landing right on the surf, staring into the water en masse, like members of a religious cult awaiting their messiah.
In our nano scale piece of history, people have always thought the ocean has always been. It has a stabilizing effect for those of us who question to much and need something that doesn’t change.
The impending storm toys with the emotions of its observers, first by blowing gentle streams of fresh air that stir recollections of the gentle summer breezes. Then the ocean shows its first white frothing head. Soon the sea is a bubbling cauldron of milky white foam and spray. The air around the few observers who dare to stay explodes with the sparks of spray. The wind forces them to squint into the ocean, what has always been as long as life can exist on this planet.
The gulls at this point of the storm pray to some gull god in hopes that mercy will keep them from being swept beneath the foaming waves into the depths of the now violent ocean. At the peak of the storm, the skies and the sea become one, torn in half by the foaming waves and violent water. Nothing else exists. Nothing else dares to exist. If there was ever a time when beauty and violence co-exist, the New England winter coastal storm is the pinnacle of both. The storm also puts the dreams of the observer into perspective. The day-to-day reality of life seems so desperately insignificant when compared with such violent majesty. Yet, the strength of nature, as reflected in the storm, also inspires a sense that anything is possible, even achievable.
The beauty of the storm is that no one ever sees it to the end. Most viewers grow to cold or tired and head for shelter. The only thing that remains is the stark, gray sky that hangs over the ocean. It’s a color that has never been successfully reproduced. Like a sunset over the volcanoes of Hawaii or the blinding white of a snowstorm in the Mount Washington Valley, the gray sea and sky of a coastal storm registers directly on the mind as a feeling and sensation of power.
The snowbirds, who migrate en masse from the coast of New England to escape the cold, miss out on the awe and majesty of a winter storm. But for the many of us who choose to stay, the magic is just beginning.
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and writer. He lives in York.