(With apologies to Eugene O’Neill)
There are messages that arrive from time to time that demand attention. Today came one of them:
URGENT – WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BALTIMORE MD/WASHINGTON DC
317 PM EDT THU OCT 12 2006
…FREEZE WARNING IN EFFECT FROM 2 AM TO 8 AM EDT FRIDAY…
THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN STERLING VIRGINIA HAS ISSUED A
FREEZE WARNING…WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM 2 AM TO 8 AM EDT FRIDAY.
THE COLDEST AIR MASS OF THE SEASON SO FAR WILL SETTLE OVER THE MID ATLANTIC BEHIND A COLD FRONT.
TEMPERATURES OVERNIGHT WILL FALL INTO THE UPPER 20S OVER THE POTOMAC HIGHLANDS AND PORTIONS
OF THE EASTERN PANHANDLE OF WEST VIRGINIA.
A FREEZE WARNING MEANS SUB-FREEZING TEMPERATURES ARE IMMINENT ORHIGHLY LIKELY.
THESE CONDITIONS WILL KILL CROPS AND OTHERSENSITIVE VEGETATION.
The Mid-Atlantic is a more than a bit schizophrenic when it comes to weather.
The British military in World War II declared Washington, DC to be in the “Tropical District.” There are more than
a few pictures of British Naval Officers, touring the Capitol grounds in their impossibly white shorts,
impossibly creased white shirts, and the inexplicable Pith Helmet. Anyone venturing about town in August would
be hard-pressed to argue the Admiralty on their assessment.
Winter is less a season than it is a ragged, vagary six weeks. It moves from year to year. Much to the
chagrin of local meteorologists, it can start on Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or even Washington’s Birthday.
It isn’t a proper winter. People don’t build fishing huts on the ice. Some years there is no ice. Some years
one could drive on it. What precedes and follows winter is a leafless, cold and brown period of reduced
sunlight and very marginal golf. It arrived this evening at 6:38 p.m. on the back of black, scudding clouds
cinched down tightly with one hand on the rope, the other high overhead and riding a Northwest wind for all
it was worth. Notice was served. It was here for a visit. It would be back for real very soon.
Fall is the period here of highly mixed emotions. There is the delivery of truly the best golf the region can
offer. Cool days and colorful leaves on tracts that have grown out since aerification and over-seeding are the
highlight of the golfing year. After a summer of voracious mosquitoes and full-body sweats that started a week
ago, a day on the links in long pants and a sweater vest is a form of materialized dream. In the way that
is life, this yin is set against the yang of ennui. The leaves falling in but a few precious weeks will mark yet
another passage. Dreams and aspirations don’t always materialize. The trip into winter is a tough one on the
addicted golfer. There are dead dreams to bury.
“The lie of the pipe dream is what gives life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us, drunk or sober.”
Eugene O’Neill-The Iceman Cometh
Golf is unique among sports for a variety of reasons:
§ It’s one of the few sports where one can improve beyond middle age.
§ It’s one of the very few sports where improvement effort does not routinely translate into
§ And, it’s probably the only sport that is completely counter-intuitive.
The winter, then, becomes a time to digest those truths and balance them against the dreams.
A very marketing-wise teaching golf professional stood on a television set last winter and declared
that Northern golfers have an innate advantage over Floridians: Northeners have winter. Ostensibly, his
fortunate Northern students would work on swing changes; flexibility, weight loss, and muscle tone while
his irresponsible Floridian pupils would simply play golf at every wisp of a turn and not improve. He didn’t
bat an eyelash, didn’t have a hair out of place, and was standing arm-to-arm next to Kelly Tilghman.
I had been shoveling snow all day from one of our freakish snow storms. How the TV survived the
evening is still a mystery.
Still, hope is the essence of the equation. In a few weeks, the departure and return from work will
be in darkness. I’ll be fighting for a spot on the machines at the gym, performing Professor Hayes’
“Body Rotation Experiment,” and watching Fred Couples win yet more money playing Silly Golf in some
irrigated desert. Golf outings will be an odd mix predominated by finding the right clothes to wear, all the
while keeping one eye on an irascible sky with the other on the hand-warmer supply. In the end,
“Winter Golf” is a bit of an oxymoron.
Pipe dreams or no, spring will return as well. Borne on the heels of a warm Southern breeze over
courageous Crocuses, it will come as softly as winter arrives loudly. Lost somehow in the excitement
of the new season will be the retrospective that is so inescapable in the fall. Tonight, with the windows
moving a bit in the casings against the first “Blue Norther,” one set of dreams dies only to be replaced
by new ones. Crocuses, put in the ground only this week, wait for their turn to judge the winter’s solitary efforts.
Woodrow Wilson, himself a golfer, understood this and has the last word. Welcome back, Iceman.
“We grow great by dreams. All big men are dreamers. They see things in the soft haze of a
spring day or in the red fire of a long winter’s evening. Some of us let these great dreams die,
but others nourish and protect them; nurse them through bad days till they bring them to the
sunshine and light which comes always to those who sincerely hope that their dreams will come true.”