Western Massachusetts

Winter Is Coming

Ha, we kept hearing that on Game of Thrones. But there are no White Walkers in Western Massachusetts, thankfully, just a lot of people thinking and planning ahead for the inevitable.

Yes, I have experienced New England winters most of my life. I did have a short hiatus in Seattle and a much longer one recently, eleven years, in New Mexico. (Northern New Mexico at 7,000 or so feet elevation does have a winter, but it’s shorter and sunnier.)

The worst was when I had to commute in them, from the hilltowns to Northampton, where I worked as a newspaper editor. I left at exactly 6:10 a.m. because I knew a plow truck would hit our road ten minutes earlier, and then made my way through four towns. I kept three compound buckets of sand in the rear of the Subaru for ballast. I left for home when it was still daylight. Yes, there were storms, including treacherous ice storms.

That’s not a worry for me now. I no longer commute to a job.

But as we drive around getting to know the northern hilltowns of Western Mass., I watch highway crews clearing vegetation along the roadsides with heavy equipment. Road construction needs to get finished before the first snows hit. There is also a time limit on any outside carpentry projects.

Naturally, I see stacks of firewood in yards.

The roadside farm stands now offer pumpkins, winter squashes, and apples.

Even the leaves of the maples and other hardwoods are fading.

And people keep warning me about winter. I remarked to Alice at our favorite coffee shop in Shelburne Falls how friendly people have been. She joked, “Wait until winter.”

As for Hank and I, this will be the first time in many years we won’t have a woodstove. The apartment we’re renting doesn’t have one. So, there won’t be the ritualistic stacking of wood or the glow of a fire. I won’t have a garden to put to bed nor will I be planting garlic for next year’s harvest. (I am hopeful all of that will change next year.)

He and I have already gone over our inventory of winter clothing, including long johns, and feel we have enough.

But our serious winter preparation came yesterday when we bought an AWD Subaru, used but with relatively low miles. We got a good deal after trips to several dealerships, not my favorite pastime, but they were enlightening experiences. The Subaru will come in handy when we need to drive somewhere and the roads are iffy.

After all, winter is coming.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Sunflowers on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls.

ONE MORE THING: I have been remiss in not posting info about my books for sale on Amazon, including my most recent, The Sweet Spot, set in Western Mass. Check them out: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG


cars, Taos

My Trusty Subaru

We have had a spate of snowy weather in Northern New Mexico — three storms in five days. Those predicted one-inchers turned into multi-inchers, especially closer the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Road conditions can get iffy here. That’s when I take the Subaru.

The Subaru, a 2003 Impreza we’ve owned since zero miles, doesn’t have a name although it should. Until the past couple of years, she (alright the car has a gender) was my constant companion on the road through good weather and some really awful weather.


The snowy scene this morning across the arroyo to my neighbor’s home.

When I worked back East, I had a 40-minute commute from a hilltown in Western Massachusetts to a newsroom in Northampton. My trip took me on a state-numbered route through three small towns. It included two serious hills — in West Chesterfield and Williamsburg — and a number of curves. The highway crews were diligent as they could be but they had a lot of miles to cover.

With three buckets of sand in the back for ballast, my trusty Subaru got me through freezing rain, ice storms, and snowstorms of varying depths.

I recall one early morning being stopped on the top of Burgy Hill by a cop who noted the highway crew was just getting there. It was black ice all the way to the bottom so I should take it slow. We sure did.

One April 1, a heavy, wet storm got past the weather forecasters. I left work early and my Subaru had to maneuver around a jackknifed tractor-trailer going up Burgy Hill. But I made it home through the cement-like snow.

These days, Hank drives the Subaru. It is the first vehicle for him that isn’t a truck or van. I got the Prius, which is heavier and does OK in the snow because it’s front-wheel drive — and is a helluva lot better on gas.

The Subaru now has 137,000 miles. Her black paint has suffered in this Northern New Mexico sun. The radio stopped working and the driver’s door lock is getting a bit funky. She got a tick in the engine no mechanic could figure how to fix a 100,000 miles ago. But she’s taken Hank twice across country and once to Vegas. When she gets going, she’s a smooth ride. She’s also got great visibility and a champ of a heater.

She’s also a dependable ride.

And so Wednesday morning she made my choice easy. I left the fancy schmancy Prius home and took the Subaru to work. I did the same at 6:30 a.m. on Friday. We already had a couple of inches on the roads. And, I felt like an old friend had come along for the ride.

PHOTO ABOVE: There she is in the newsroom’s parking lot.


The Winter of Our Discontent

Shakespeare used those words to begin his play Richard III. Steinbeck borrowed them for the title of his last novel. I believe it is an appropriate description for those Back East who are suffering through this winter’s staggering amounts of snow and cold.

I have spoken with my family who live there. One daughter reports over six feet of snow in the back yard and hiring people to tend to the roof. The snow is deep even where my parents live, in Buzzards Bay, which tends to have milder winters. This morning my mother said snow was falling again. Soon she won’t see the top of her fence.

A friend posted a photo on Facebook of West Island in Fairhaven, Mass., that shows ice extending to sea. The fire department has had to chop through eight inches of ice in the New Bedford harbor for the fishing boats.

Yes, we do have winter in Taos. We are at the same latitude as South Carolina but we are at 7,200 feet elevation or higher. Temps have 30-degree differentials between night and day. We get snow, dry stuff, mostly in the mountains where it belongs. Down on the mesa, it doesn’t stick around too long because of the sun. We had a dusting this morning. Big deal, eh?

Snow on the sagebrush

Snow on the sagebrush

But I survived tough winters when we lived in the boonies of Western Massachusetts. Snow storms that caught us by surprise. Ice storms — the absolute worst — that lasted days. Lingering cold. One month it didn’t get above the 20s so road salt didn’t work.

I hated commuting during the winter even though the road crews did a great job. I knew their schedules. I left at 6:10 a.m. for work because a plow truck would make a sweep of the steep hill outside our home at 6 a.m. The crews in the towns I traveled were out early, too. If a storm came while I was at work, I left at 1 p.m. It wasn’t worth going at noon, because the guys always broke then for lunch. If necessary, I found places to stay overnight — with one of the kids, when they went to school, or with a co-worker.

I stored three buckets of sand in the back of my Subaru for ballast.

I watched the weather constantly.

I waited for spring.

Our former home in western Massachusetts during a snow storm.

Our former home in western Massachusetts during a snow storm.

When we moved to Taos, I swore I would never commute to work. I succeeded with  an 11-minute drive. We have had snow-covered roads. But people tend to stay off them so the traffic is light.

I am planning a trip Back East next month to visit family. I don’t imagine 100-inches or more of snow in Boston will be gone by then. But to tell the truth, I am curious to see that much of it again.


Stuck in the Mud

Normally we have a great dirt road with a nice crown, coarse material and drainage where it’s needed. As I’ve written before, it serves our small neighborhood in the high desert well.

Ah, but snow and above-normal temps this winter changed that. We got mud.

Throw in a couple of propane deliveries and we got car-sucking mud and deep, wide ruts that freeze overnight.

People say the mud in Taos is the worst they can remember. That’s small consolation when I worry about getting in and out safely.

For a while, I could steer my front-wheel-drive car over the road’s firmer spots. In the morning, I drove over the frozen wider ridges. Our neighbors did the same.

Hank walking on our muddy road.

Hank walks our road. The photo doesn’t do the mud justice.

But conditions didn’t improve. A garbage truck picking up trash at a neighbor’s house made things a lot worse. I’m not going to go into the hairy details except to say I had to enlist Hank’s driving skills to get me out the next morning, and then I parked at the top of the road for a couple of days. Friday I donned a headlamp to hike a half-mile to the end of the road to make a 7 a.m. work meeting.

There is hope, however. We are fortunate to know the resourceful Armando, who has done work at three of the four houses in our cluster. Last year, he and his crew redid the stucco on our home. Now we will chip in for him to fix the road since it is private. He’s given us a fair price. Fortunately we have great neighbors who also want to get the work done.

This week, he got a head start fixing the worst ruts. His heavy equipment is parked at a neighbor’s house ready to go.

Nature did throw us a curveball Friday with a good amount of snow, maybe close to a foot. Ugh, warm weather is in the forecast next week.

By chance, we met Armando at the supermarket today. He’ll be back tomorrow to plow the snow before he hauls in gravel and gets to work sometime next week. Armando says it’s important to keep the moisture off the road’s center. Otherwise it will sink in and turn the road to a muddy mess.

I believe him.