A few years ago, right about in the middle of the same month that we are in now, I was standing on the wharf looking out at the harbor thinking to myself that it’s too late for the harbor to freeze over. We’re home free. Spring is just around the corner. Three weeks later we had an excavator aboard the On Time 2 digging a path across the ice choked water. The chunks of ice were a foot thick and the size of pool tables.

Weather happens quickly this time of year. One day we have warm sunshine. Next day the temperature is 11 degrees. And a day later there are 10 inches of snow flakes piled up in the yard in only 10 hours time.

When I was a kid, it seemed that when you said three day northeaster, you were being redundant. Every northeaster lasted three days. If there was snow in the storm, it came up to your knees and school was out for a day. The highway department used front end loaders to fill dump trucks with tons of snow from the downtown streets, dumped it in the parking lot at the foot of Main street and then scooped it overboard into the harbor between the finger piers. Now, of course that is no longer allowed by environmental concerns.

The harbor used to freeze over every winter. The only open water anywhere to be found was the path that the Chappy Ferry kept open with its regular passages. The open water attracted hundreds of ducks and gulls. I would buy corn from Dick Steigelman’s Farm and Feed down toward Katama. Chappaquiddickers would make donations to the corn fund.

For weeks, the situation would remain stable. The ferry could continue operating and the birds had their hot tub. Everything would be fine until a fishing boat came in to tie up at the wharf, breaking up the ice sheet and throwing it all into chaos. The open water would clog with ice flows. The ferry couldn’t run until the tide changed and carried the ice toward the lighthouse. Hours later it would all come back. The slips would get bound up with ice.

One year, Jack Carbon and I had to climb down under the Chappy ramp with axes to chop out the ice that had built up to the point where the ramp couldn’t reach down to the ferry at low tide. It pivoted like a teeter totter on the ice. I got pneumonia every other winter from getting drenched in sweat from the exertion of pushing ice out of the slips and then getting a chill.

Oddly, I look back at that time as simpler. The weather was more definite and we didn’t have a lot of warning or details. When it stormed, school stopped, the Chappy Ferry stopped, we started eating from the cans in the pantry. The weather gave us a break from our usual lives. I admired how Mother Nature made us stop in our tracks.