An eastern bluebird flitted from tree to tree behind our house this week. Then a red fox scampered across a field. They were the first flashes of natural color I had seen in about five months.
This was the first full winter we had spent in Hudson in more than 30 years. My wife Barb and I decided not to do a warm-weather trip to help get through the winter, mainly because I am still recovering from a bike crash in the fall.
We also wanted to see what winter was like at our home in Livingston, just outside Hudson, New York. It wasn’t like we had lived on the equator previously; southern Connecticut has basically the same climate. But we were curious if our 232-year-old home would protect us from an upstate winter.
The house sits on the Taghkanic Creek and was a caretaker’s cottage for the grist mill on the estate of Robert Livingston. It isn’t exactly a hermetically sealed environment. The perimeter of the house is about 10 degrees colder than the interior, even with new windows and doors. One thing I discovered in this first winter was that it takes a lot of courage to get out of bed early on a sub-zero morning.
It was a long and cold winter. The bone-chilling temperatures of late December and early January receded slightly in February but cold persisted right through March. The conga line of March nor’easters was disheartening. The monochrome grayness of everything – sky, roads, landscapes – was the toughest thing to take.
We discovered that our dog, Charlie, likes the warmth of a fire more than food. On frosty mornings, he wouldn’t leave the hearth even when we put his breakfast out for him. He’s a 10-pound dachshund and he shortened our walks because of the cold even when he was wearing his WWII aviator-style jacket. He would just look up at us like he was the only one with common sense, turn, and head back to the house.
We went through more than a face cord of wood and lots of propane to keep the little place warm. Sleep came early, much earlier than when we lived elsewhere. We churned books – me “Jack Reacher” novels and Barb bios of Katherine Graham and "Wild Bill" Donovan. We depleted the supply of watchable movies on Apple TV and Netflix. We binged “Fixer Upper" on HGTV.
So, what was the outcome of our first hibernation here? Well, I put on about 20 pounds because of my own inertia and the need for comfort food. The snow plow cracked our mail box post. We had a frozen pipe that plagued us for most of January. The heavy March snows snapped a few big tree limbs.
The best result was that we now know this is the place we want to be for many more winters. It was harsh and discouraging at times, a bit like the movie “Groundhog Day” as one chilly morning looked like the one before it. I sometimes sang Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” when I got out of bed – Bill Murray's wakeup song in the movie.
But we felt an internal warmth from being in a home that we finally won’t have to pack up and leave. There were new and old friends. Good music at Helsinki. Excellent food. Comfortable bars and breweries. And with technology, the ability to work with clients all over the world without leaving home.
Every morning, I looked forward to watching two merganser ducks -- a couple apparently -- land in our creek even when it was nearly covered with ice. They’d dive for food, staying under for what seemed like minutes. When their meal was over, they floated together downstream on the current, energized for the day.
Having said all this, I am happy the sun is higher in the sky and the bluebirds are back.