So far, the winter of 2012 is a non-event; the second warmest on record in Boston, with the least amount of snowfall ever. Those flat chilly days that seemed to go on for months in February’s past are now just punctuation marks in a season that is surreally sunny and bright. Last Friday nature delivered a true winter day. The morning the sky was a helmet of battleship grey clamped down on the city. Spits of icy snow dinged me as I cycled along the river to work.
Even on a dreary day my ride is pleasant, accented by three highlights along my journey. The first is the borderline cruel satisfaction I get when I cross the Charles at the River Street Bridge and revel in the freedom of being a cyclist as I pass the drivers trapped in their steel and glass and traffic. They look bored or frustrated, applying their make-up or fiddling with the radio, their bellies slumped into their laps, oblivious that I can observe so much of them.
The second satisfaction is riding the beneath the train bridge near BU. The bike path shifts onto a boardwalk extending over the water. The bridge is very low. When I emerge from beneath the squeezed space, the broad basin shimmers in green ripples and the city skyline pops up before me. It is a beautiful tableau.
Once I have emerged from under the bridge, my ride follows the river along Back Bay, over the curvilinear Feidler foot bridge, along the Public Garden with Daniel Chester French’s luminescent statue of a winged angel, and diagonally across Boston Common. There, on the low stone wall at the intersection of the Common’s two main paths, sits the Weatherman.
The Weatherman is a big guy with deep copper skin who sits with one leg straight out, a heavy parka wrapped around his chest, and a black Bruins skull cap. He possesses a radio voice; a booming baritone that carries hundreds of feet across the still dry air. His articulation is sharp, his cadence hypnotic. I hear him before I see him, proclaiming from his perch the rudimentary facts required to survive the day. “36 degrees this morning, going up to 43 this afternoon; flurries of snow turning over to rain.”
I nod as I approach him, but he has never acknowledged me in return. He is the messenger to the people; he proclaims the news of the day. “MBTA strike averted; Obama visits Florida, Death toll in Syria on the rise.” His headlines are decidedly mainstream. There is nothing subversive about the man except that his very presence is disquieting; the only sound among the scurry of people to work, a voice loud, confident, and assured. Yet he is not going to work, he is already at work, fulfilling a calling that has been revealed only to him. Maybe he is homeless or psychotic or a babbling genius or maybe he is the John the Baptist of CNN. I only know that his weather forecasts are accurate.
I coast towards the intersection where he sits, mindful of pedestrians with their heads buried against the chill. They are not looking where they are going. The Weatherman pauses. He leans to the right and looks straight at me. “Flurries of snow turning over to rain.” His eyes are soft dark brown. His words are like a fleece laid over me to ward off winter. This is a matter of serious consequence to the man, this turn in the weather; the tragedy that the glittering specks of snow dancing against the featureless sky will deteriorate into a stream of rain and wash away winter’s brisk glory.
He looks at me as a father looks at his son, warning me of the worldly dangers, the treachery of flurries transforming into rain. He wishes I would forego my foolishness, riding my bicycle in this weather, yet resigns to the inevitability that foolishness is the province of the young and I am going to ride my bike despite his dire and sincere warnings.
I ride past, my spirits buoyed, feeling kin to the Weatherman. His phrase repeats in my head. “Flurries of snow turning over to rain.” How many ways could he have expressed that idea? Snow this morning, rain this afternoon. Flurries turn to rain. Rain later. Snow will end, rain begins. He didn’t use any of those prosaic phrases. His mission may be to announce the news and weather, but there is a wordsmith in him, a poet. Could there be a more beautiful phrase to announce winter’s impending demise? Flurries of snow turning over to rain.