Monday, November 29, 2010


Geographically the dividing line between southern and northern New England may run in a rough, jagged crust separating rocky beach from sandy beach, but culturally the difference is most keenly felt in how each region handles winter. Up in New Hampshire, where I last lived, it was common for store marquees and school booster boards to proclaim “THINK ICE” or “LET IT SNOW” as soon as the apples dropped from the trees and until someone collected the payoff for correctly predicting the exact day of ice-out.

Down here in Rhody, it’s a different story – a tale of dreaded snowfalls and legendary blizzards, snowplows stuck behind school buses and annual milk and bread panic. The first scrape of winter was apparent this morning in my West Barrington cove, where the neighborhood woke to frosted car windows and a temperature reluctant to climb out of the 20s. Over the weekend I reshuffled the wardrobe, moving out the Hawaiian shirts to make room for clothes of a more Alaskan bent – the scarves and sweaters, fleeces and balaclavas that accessorize winter.

Alaskan aside: The 49th State is getting a lot of mileage and free publicity out of TLC’s “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” so here’s a way for Rhody’s new governor to put the 13th State on the map: “Linc Chafee’s Rhode Island,” a reality TV program showing the Chafee family living la vida Rhody. Suggested programs: 1) “East Bay Ecstasy”: The Chafees enjoy a morning of duckpin bowling at Dudek Lanes in Warren, followed by lunch at Rod’s Grill (an arm of gaggers all the way) or Blount’s Clam Shack, culminating in a night of competitive bocce at the gravel pits in Bristol’s Colt State Park. 2) “South County Sojourn”: With halibut-bashing not an option, the Chafees choose to spend the morning quahogging barefoot in the mudflats along Galilee Escape Road, before hopping on the slow boat to Block Island for an afternoon of TV drinking games at the bar in The National Hotel. (How it works: Every time Sarah Palin says “Obamacare” or “lamestream media,” you have to drink.)

Join the fun. Suggest an episode.

Alaskan aside, part deux: On a whim, I decided to Google “How many Rhode Islands can fit into Alaska?” Here’s the scary part: Dozens of sites have answered that question – and others like it, from “How many Rhode Islands can fit into Texas” to “How many Rhode Islands can fit into Mississippi?” In fact, pretty much name a place and somebody has worked out how many Rhode Islands can be squeezed into it. Of course, it wouldn’t be Rhode Island if everyone agreed on the math. Yahoo! Answers says that Rhode Island fits 423.56 times into Alaska, while Wiki Answers puts the number at 634.7. The difference is that Yahoo! uses the 1,545 square-mile calculation, which includes Narragansett Bay, while Wiki sticks to the land-only number of 1,045 square miles. Yes, this is how I spend my Monday afternoons.

And now, back to the post:

As for winter, New Hampshire may be colder, but like the reverse of an Arizona summer, it’s a dry cold. The loss of light in Rhode Island seems even more dispiriting than it does in moose country, for reasons that I can’t entirely fathom – although perhaps it has something to do with our lack of dark sky. Street lamps and neon strip the night of stars. That’s a bad tradeoff, especially in the season of Orion.

This week’s question: What do you dread most – or look forward to most – about winter?