This day celebrates romantic love. A Christian priest martyred in third-century Rome amid the deep sorrows and turbulence of that world became the Saint Valentine for whom this day is named.
Dedicating one day to romance suggests that love gets less emphasis on other days. Amid contemporary sorrows and turbulence, people need to feel attachments, maybe more now than ever. I view Valentine's Day the droll way my mother views birthdays. "Better to be like the Mad Hatter celebrating un-birthdays," she says. "There are 364 in a year, and only one birthday. Besides, who needs to be reminded they're getting older?"
It's easy to think of February as a bleak month. It's as cold as January, though usually less windy, a mirror image of July and August. Most summers July is hotter but windier, and August fades to sultry. February can still surprise. Forty years ago, from Feb. 5-7, New England was lashed by a massive blizzard paralyzing the region with snowfalls so sudden and deep that thousands of cars were trapped and abandoned on major roads. The Blizzard of '78 was the most dramatic event of my early years on the farm in Sandwich.
It showed characteristics of a hurricane, with intense winds rotating counterclockwise around a distinct eye. For hours the wind howled from due east, and a foot of snow accumulated. Then the wind subsided briefly and the sun came out as the eye passed overhead. During that lull I trudged out to East Sandwich beach and saw pack ice the storm tore loose from the Orleans elbow and piled up in a 10-foot-high windrow on the beach. Huge waves pounded the windrow with such force I could feel the shudder through my feet from 200 yards away. A storm surge coincided with high tide, rushed up Old Harbor Creek, and threatened to cross the road onto my cranberry bog. As the surge peaked, I shoveled snow to dam the low spot, and barely saved the bog from a saltwater flood.
The eye passed, the wind switched to west, another foot of snow fell, and the reversed gale drove the tide down before further damage was done. My pickup truck was parked outside at the time, and remained trapped for five days until a neighbor with a plow dug out my driveway. The ice wall on the beach took six weeks to melt. The snow cover proved beneficial for that year's crops.
I wouldn't have missed that storm for the world. Nature, in all her grandeur and indifference to puny humans, had taught the value of humility, preparing for the worst, and hoping for the best.
In 2005, the year after moving to Cataumet, a mondo snowstorm dropped 39 inches on this vicinity, the highest total for miles around. This time I lived on a tar road, and parked my car at the end of the driveway, so it took only a couple of hours to shovel out. Over the span of years, physical strength wanes, the thrill of blizzards subsides, and many contemporaries have become "snowbirds" who flee to southern climes until spring arrives. Still, those of us who love the Cape, and whose duties exceed our travel budgets, there is much to love about chilly scenes of winter.
Jack Frost spent early January painting my windowpanes. The cold was so persistent his icy feathers lasted over 10 days. Come July, I'll look at the photographs and recall them with a sigh. On chilly, calm nights a nearby inlet freezes over, and ice clings to the salt grass at the edges. When the tide ebbs underneath, the skin of ice breaks with a delicate, tinkling sound, and the rising sun glitters from the frozen film at scores of shifting angles.
Low tide flats along Cape Cod Bay are uncrowded in winter, the air is clearer, and dogs run free. A friend from that vicinity has outlived a number of white Labs, and just got another puppy. Few scenes are more heartwarming than Labrador retrievers romping on a winter's day. Labs never complain about weather, or wish they were someplace else. Beaches with more dogs than people show how dogs extend their masters' lives. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. A dog walk a day keeps the funeral at bay.
This paper lists cultural events more plentiful and varied than years past: plays, flower shows, boat shows, poetry readings. I had to drive all the way to Kingston for MetOpera's simulcast of "Tosca" because the Cape Cinema sold out. Outdoors and in, there's plenty to do. Find your muse, or your amusement, and share the joy with your valentine.
— Cape Cod Times columnist Thomas Gelsthorpe lives in Cataumet and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.