A native Californian learns about Maine winter the hard way

Over the last two years I’ve learned I’m “from away.” I was born in the San Francisco area, and spent the later half of my childhood running barefoot through my parents’ vineyard in California’s Central Valley.

My friends drove tractors, raised pygmy goats and wore cowboy hats to school. As a thank you at the end of baseball season, my dad usually received a 32-pound crate of cherries instead of a trophy or another type of coach’s gift.

Winter was an afterthought.

I grew up thinking the weather had “turned inclement” when temperatures dropped into the 40s. Until I moved east, I didn’t know that spring didn’t start in February and that fall is actually a full season.

Needless to say, I’ve been on quite a learning curve in recent years. Sometimes winter still wins, mostly because of my own naivete.

I call these unfortunate events “rookie mistakes” and they happen more often than I care to admit.

Take for example a recent composting adventure. The thought made sense in the California half of my brain. I’d place the compost bin, full of rotting vegetables and fruit on the front porch until I could take it to our larger bin out by the garden. Dinner scraps would freeze, not stink. Hidden on the porch, the bin wouldn’t tempt passing dogs or crows. But my husband would find it, frozen solid into the inch or two of snow covering the porch. As he wrenched it free, the brittle plastic shattered. Rookie mistake.

Another day, I headed to Castine to write a story about an underwater robot being tested in the Maine Maritime Academy pool. I left the house proud of the fact that I’d remembered I’d need a pencil to take notes with since my pen was sure to freeze standing outside … at the pool.

Oh right, Maine doesn’t have many outdoor pools and any that exist are drained each winter so they don’t turn to ice rinks.

Face palm.

I regularly venture out without a coat. Or a hat. Or gloves. It drives my husband crazy. I guess I see sunshine and forget about the white stuff on the ground, the bitter wind and the fact that it’s several degrees below freezing, never mind the windchill factor.

A few weeks ago, I showed up to an interview in a horse barn wearing boat shoes. I thought they made sense at the time, they are pretty ratty so I didn’t mind if they got dirtied. Of course once I was there, I realized that any dirt or manure that would have soiled my shoes, was frozen solid — kind of like a plastic compost bin left out in the cold, or my feet that day.

Now lest you think I’m a complete moron, I have learned from these mistakes. Mostly.

I’ve recently started stashing one piece of clothing beyond what I think I actually need in the car. Most of the time, I don’t end up going back for it but hey, at least I think about it.

And I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of being from away too.

For one thing, I still find shoveling snow a rather pleasant activity.

I also have a warm place to “go home to” and it’s not Florida. Come March, most Mainers flock south. I head west. By mid-March, ticket prices to San Francisco are dirt cheap and temperatures are hovering in the high 60s to low 70s. My family thinks I’m crazy when I show up in short sleeves and want to go swimming.

Apparently, these days I’m “from away” no matter where I go.



Natalie Feulner

About Natalie Feulner

Natalie Feulner is a journalist and “semi-crunchy” cloth diapering momma to a rambunctious toddler named after a county in California. She drinks too much tea and loves to climb rocks but not at the same time.