Another cool look at Melrose -- in the deep freeze

... an essay: Writing a story while the flakes fall

from Don Norris

At midnight, the Brown-McCarthy house below, the McFaun home on the right.

One thing we Melrosians can count on, as sure as the sun rises: Snow.

It can begin in late fall, the snow. And it continues sometime into spring. Why just last year ago there was a raging storm in  April. The further north you go, the closer you get to year-round snow, as proven by the regular comings and goings of at least four glacial ice ages. On, woe is us.

But then, snow is beautiful -- for about 24 hours. At our latitude here in Melrose, we are about halfway between the North Pole and earth's equator, which doesn't explain much except that those ice ages, which begin around the poles, died out when they reached Georges Bank, about a hundred miles southeast of downtown Boston.

So much for antiquity. I mean to deal with the beauty these frigid times bring. Since the majority of the staff of the Melrose Mirror is pushing mighty close to justifying the term "seniors", the advent of winter, regardless of its sporadic beauty, is something we have to deal with. Generally, it just ain't fun, for we do tend to be shivering cold when the temperature drops below sixty degrees. Nevertheless, this frozen water that falls upon us for the better part of half a year, we are thankful for its brief periods of beauty.

At the right is the same scene of the lead picture, of the Brown's and McFaun's homes, only some eleven hours later. The storm had abated and the snow glistened in the morning light -- a brief respite before bad weather returned only a few days later. In between storms we were able to get our four-wheel-drive Forester out. First stop was nearby Mount Hood, on the road servicing the Melrose Fish and Game Club.

Our woodshed never looked so good. Both photos were taken a minute apart, through the glass of my computer room. All photos in this essay were hand-held, even the half-second midnight shot, above. It was a matter of pressing the camera against the windowframe.

If it snows, there will be snowmen. These three were born on Mount Hood Terrace (as I remember). The one on the left was about seven feet tall, exaggerated by his red-pail top hat and two-by-four arms. Then there is a snowman who needs a blue scarf to stay warm -- like, death by melting. And finally the makings of a traditional American snowman, yet unfinished; he looks like he's had a bottle of beer or two, with his westerly tilt.

We cheated, for this fireplug is in Saugus, out Lynn Fells Parkway, near the Breakheart Reservation. Melrose does not paint it's hydrants red. At the right, back in Melrose, this (and all other) house{s} looked pristine in the weekend storm. The house was adjacent to Bellevue Country Club.

Here's a photo I suspect no one has ever seen before. It was taken by SilverStringer Louise Fennell who lives in the Cochrane House on Grove Street. She shot this single frame by bracing her Pentax digital camera against the plate glass on the seventh floor, aimed at the Mobil Station at Grove and Main. The snow had let up, the plows had been by, and Louise's experiment worked out just fine.

Our large pin oak was mature when we bought our home half a century ago, but it is now facing the downhill side of life. It is a beautiful tree, perched on the edge of a 30-foot cliff, providing us with shade, beauty and comfort. I've probably made a hundred photos of it in different seasons; this is the latest -- early, just past dawn, as the snow storm let up. Note the blue cast.

On the other side of our home are two very fine hickory trees. I'll bet you can't find a single branch that has a straight secton -- it bends, twists and reminds me that its maker must have had a snoot-full when he designed our pignut hickories. Perhaps they were put there to capture snow, to produce a wonderful maze of light. In this case, this midnight flick was taken by the orange light of the sodium vapor street lamps.

I've used this photo before in the Mirror -- but since then a new house was inserted, two homes have changed hands, and there's a second generation living in the place next door. Funny, we know the McFauns, but that's about it for all the other folks in the twenty or so houses on Spear Street. In Jersey, where we grew up, our parents knew just about all the families in the neighborhood. The point here, however, is that vague orange light from the streetlights, the patterns of brilliant light cast by spillage from each of the houses. It is a mystical scene at 11:30p.m.

This is the Crowley home, which we've pictured several times. The house was one of the early homesteads on top of our hill, and Leo and Paul Noyes resided here then. There was a small barn in back, with a corral where Leo kept two small ponies -- and a pony-drawn carriage. The two photos above were taken about midnight, again washed with the orange of the street lamps.

At the left I saw that my storm door was half-frosted, so I used it this time to get a different view. But then, I needed a clear view, so I swung the storm door open, got hit with frigid blast of freezing air, and snapped the picture. Before and after, near zero.

All the photos in this essay (other than Louise's) were made with my new Nikon D-300, which permits an ISO (sensitivity to light) of 3200. I used a battery of different lenses from a 10 millimeter super-wide-angle lens to a 70-300 zoom. The point of the project was to go with NO tripod, go hand-held, use my ingenuity to brace the camera. It worked.

Why, it's the shed again. It, like our house, has had an addition, yet both seemed stuffed with stuff that we have collected over the past 50 years. I'm quite sure that there is an old push-style lawn mower out there, several shelves of white walnut split logs that I used in carving Santa Clauses, bags and bags of lawn fertilizers, and even 60-lb bag of cement that is hard as a rock.

But the sheds, which I built myself, look good. And that's what matters today. The beauty of the place in fall winter, summer and spring. Couple the shed with all the outcropping of million-year old bedrock, and one has a built-in garden of Eden.

And so we wind it up with a sign of the times -- ball field closed -- and a last look at our rock garden, out front.

The park sign telling us kids that we can't play ball here now, surely brought disappointment, but then, can you imagine chasing a fly ball in the snow? By the way, the park is Breakheart again -- a favorite place for the SilverStringer photo team to work out.

At the right, looking through a very frosty storm door, is our rock garden. One can barely make out the wrought-iron railing, the garden that falls about eight feet to the front lawn -- and a picture of Melrose as it was a 150 years ago. You just have to use your imagination -- or come back next spring.

February 6, 2009

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