Category Archives: Winter


A couple of days ago, Carol and I were walking down along the waterfront. Carol headed off towards the south side of State Pier. “Let’s go up here,” I said pointing to the north side of the pier, where the Martha’s Vineyard ferry docks. “I haven’t seen any seals yet this winter. Maybe we can see seals from up there.”

Carol turned, and started walking in that direction. She has already seen seals several times this winter.

It sounded questionable even as I said it. “Or we don’t have to go up there. I mean, we almost never see any seals up there.”

But Carol, being a good sport, was already heading up to where the ferry was docked. We got to the end of the pier, and looked out towards Fairhaven between the ferry on one side and the fishing boats on the other side. “Look,” I said, “It’s a seal!”

“Where?” said Carol. “Oh, I see it!”

The seal played on the surface of the water for a minute or so, and then slipped under the water and disappeared. We kept walking. It was a gray, raw, gloomy day. Inside, I was happily repeating to myself: I saw a seal! I saw a seal!


“This is unbelievable,” said the woman coming down the hill.

I was headed up the hill. Whoever owns the property on the southwest corner of William Street and Acushnet Avenue never bothers to shovel the sidewalks. This weekend’s storm left those sidewalks covered in about an inch and a half of solid slippery ice. The woman and I were both walking very carefully; the footing was bad that I did not look up at her when she spoke; but then she wasn’t talking to me, she was complaining to the absentee landlord.

“Look at this shit,” she muttered. “This is unbelievable.”

Down the street, I could hear the whir of automobile tires spinning on ice, as a driver tried to get traction pulling out of a parking space. A man came walking down the middle of the road, because at least there was sand and salt on the road. Winter is here, with a vengeance.

Progress of a winter storm in New England


All of a sudden, it’s snowing heavily, and blowing like sixty. 11:21 a.m.

On State Pier, heavy snow. 1:05 p.m.

Snowing heavily. 4-6 inches already. It looks very Christmas-y. 4:15 p.m.

It stopped snowing half an hour ago. Carol went skiing on the city sidewalks. I put a carrot nose on someone else’s snowman. 8:30 p.m.


Now we’re getting ocean-effect snow: big, fat, fluffy flakes lazily falling, covering the sidewalks with crystalline white. 6:35 p.m.


Snow mixed with sleet, making ankle-deep slush on the sidewalks and streets. 1:36 p.m.

The snow has turned to rain. Yuck. What a mess. 1:44 p.m.

Out for a walk. Slop, slush, half-frozen puddles, cars splashing us. It’s good to be outdoors. 4:12 p.m.

The rain stopped, cold wind
blew in; now wet snow and slush
get frozen solid.
11:16 p.m. Dec. 21st

A random memory

This took place back somewhere around 1984, when I was working as a yardman in a lumber yard.

One of the truck drivers — we’ll call him Skipper — was a young guy, maybe twenty or twenty-two, with sandy hair down to his shoulders and a friendly open face. Like all of us, he always wore a baseball cap, and like most of us younger guys he always wore shorts and a T-shirt in the summer; like me, he wore wire-rimmed aviator glasses of the type that were popular back then.

But he was a little louder and more cheerful than the rest of us, and he had a wicked west-of-Boston accent, and above all he partied much harder than anyone else who worked there. He was late for work more than once because he was hung over, or he slept through the alarm clock, or (so it was said) he was still drunk or stoned when he got up in the morning and couldn’t get it together enough even to drive to work.

Skipper managed to make it work for a couple of years; he wasn’t the best driver we had, but he was good enough. Then he started getting worse. One morning, Bob, the senior driver, came back from a delivery just before lunch. “Where’s Skipper?” he said. “I don’t see his truck.”

One of the other drivers said that Skipper wasn’t back yet.

Bob, a master at sounding disgusted, said, “Jesus, he just had to go up to Carlisle, and he left before I did.”

Pretty soon everyone, even the kid who came in to work after school, was aware that Skipper was screwing up. The other drivers were resentful because Skipper wasn’t pulling his weight. Georgia, the yard foreman, would make a point of checking his watch when he saw Skipper driving into the yard. It became obvious that the shipper and the vice-president were also keeping an eye on him. Skipper didn’t seem to care; he was the same happy-go-lucky, half-stoned, cheerful guy as usual. This went on for a few weeks: tension building around Skipper, while he seemed utterly unaware of it.

One day, late in the afternoon, several of us were standing around in the coffee shack, pretending to wait for customers but really waiting for five o’clock to come around. One of the drivers came out of the shipper’s office. “They caught Skipper.” “What? Whaddya mean, they caught him?” He told us what he had heard, a bare-bones account of what had happened: Skipper was driving one of the box trucks; the vice-president shadowed Skipper in a car, followed him to a jobsite, a place where there was no delivery scheduled; Skipper was selling drugs off the back of his truck.

That’s all we ever heard about it. Nobody had to say that they fired Skipper, we all knew that. But was he just selling marijuana, or was it something more serious? Were the cops called? Was he arrested? I never found out, and no one ever talked about it. Skipper never came back, and I never saw him again.


Low gray clouds come and
go. The wind shifts from east to
southwest then to west.

The turn of seasons
seems to be stalled. It’s fall, then
it’s winter, then fall.

Midafternoon, just
before sunset, the clouds broke,
and turned orange pink,

a solstice sunset
in shirtsleeve weather with a
winter’s cold west wind.


Tucked in a large zippered portfolio that was given to me by a pretty and wealthy girl when I was in college — but that’s a different memory, let’s not get diverted by other memories quite yet….

In that large zippered portfolio, I have a poster that a friend gave me in high school. “BANANA MAN” says the poster in large, cheerful letters. Above that is a cartoon portrait of a caped superhero, arms crossed, big goofy grin over his big goofy chin, a bulbous nose, stern eyes gazing out from behind a bright yellow mask loosely tied behind his head, all under a mop of unruly black hair. The poster is a lithograph drawn and printed by the guy who gave it to me, and there’s his signature in the bottom right corner: Karl E. Friberg.

Karl was a year ahead of me in high school, about the only student from art class I hung out with outside of class. Karl was always drawing Banana Man cartoons, some of which ran in the high school newspaper, and I admired and copied his drawing style to the best of my ability. We had a free period together at some point, and I remember watching him bring out the “Banana Box,” a slim box filled with an unruly collection of drawing implements: pencils, pens, erasers, a ruler, felt-tip markers. As soon as I saw it I started assembling my own portable box of drawing implements.

“I’m going to make a lithograph of Banana Man,” Karl announced one day. He was taking an industrial arts class in printing. “I’m making Banana Man T-shirts.” Wow! What could be better than a Banana Man T-shirt! A few days later, Karl appeared with an armful of T-shirts, shouted, “Laundry!” and tossed me a Banana Man T-shirt. God knows what happened to that T-shirt, but he also gave me the Banana Man poster which is still in my portfolio….

Banana Man by Karl E. Friberg

Karl graduated from high school a few months later, and I completely lost touch with him. Did he go on to a career in commercial art as he dreamed of doing? Does he still draw Banana Man? After he graduated, I inherited his place as the cartoonist in the high school newspaper, and I drew a humorous melodrama called “Rabbit Man,” the main character of which was a shorter, dumpier, stupider version of Banana Man. I never was as good a cartoonist as Karl had been.

It’s worth mentioning that Karl Friberg’s Banana Man predates the British cartoon character Bananaman by four or five years.


Yesterday, it felt like winter. The temperature was down in the teens, there was a biting wind, snow on the ground, early sunset.

Today, it no longer feels like winter. The temperature got up over fifty, fitful breezes barely ruffled the water of the harbor, the snow disappeared. The only thing to keep me from thinking that it was springtime was the early sunset.

This appears to be the new pattern for winter here — wild variations in weather, springlike days mixed in with bitter winter days. Global climate change is an ongoing process, so we will have to see how this new pattern will evolve and change.

The creeping crud

They’re calling it “the creeping crud” — the upper respiratory ailment that has afflicted so many people around here this winter. Yesterday I was talking with someone who has the creeping crud, and he said his doctor told him to expect it to last ten to twelve weeks; that is, if you take care of yourself, because if you don’t take care of yourself, the creeping crud creeps right back into your system.

Take me as an example of what the creeping crud can do to someone who doesn’t take care of himself. I came down with a vague upper respiratory ailment at the end of October, which lingered for twelve weeks or so. I finally got rid of it in mid-January — or so I thought — I felt great, got lots of outdoors exercise, cleaned the apartment, and — started overworking again. The creeping crud crept back into my lungs in early February, I developed bronchitis, and eleven weeks later I’m just starting to feel somewhat better.

At First Unitarian, we actually saw a significant dip in attendance in the worship service and in the Sunday school throughout February — that’s how prevalent the creeping crud has been in this part of the world. One of the television news shows claimed in February that half the population of Massachusetts had upper respiratory ailments. Supposedly health care providers are saying this is the worst they’ve ever seen it.


Carol remembered that we were going to be able to see a total eclipse of the moon tonight. The almanac said the eclipse would begin at 8:43; at nine o’clock I remembered to look out our front window. It’s a little hazy here, but I could see the moon pretty clearly: already, the circle of the earth’s shadow has covered a significant portion of the bright disc of the moon.

When I was a child, I seem to remember a number of winter nights when my mother would stay up late to watch partial or total lunar eclipses; or would set her alarm clock so she could awaken in the middle of the night to see them. I only remember seeing one or two, if they happened early in the evening; I was never interested enough in astronomical events to miss sleep for one. I don’t remember the other members of our family being all that interested in eclipses, either. But in memory, my mother never missed a lunar eclipse.

Beginning of lunar eclipse

Lunar eclipse as of 9:00 EST, New Bedford, Mass.