After ten years we found ourselves at the car dealer looking, and gasping at the price, at a new-to-us replacement for our deceased SUV. This time our focus was on Subaru which has the best – that we discovered in Consumer Reports – reputation for lack of problems. There’s some fantasy for you. So after much haggling Jeanne has a dark blue Outback to drive. The little car, I have to admit, is comfortable and has enough power to get up our steep driveway. It will take some getting used to: It feels like we’re just clearing the ground after the high ride in the old Explorer and my pickup.
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We had a dusting of snow last night, just enough to cover the ground. Now the hills and fields are bright white again and more appropriate for February.
But it is still an open winter.
Once in a great while, maybe over a dozen or even fifteen winters, very little or no snow will fall in Vermont. When that happens it is said to be an ‘open winter’ and refers to an old, and still widespread belief that goes: “Open winter, open grave”. It is said that more people died in open winters than during those with a normal snowfall.
Probably the number of people who passed on in a winter that had little or no snow was not much different than in other years but an open winter was something one could blame for death. Without snow there is more dust visible in the air, and with more dust one can assume there are more germs.
That is one explaination. But when the old tale began not much was known about microbes so we can’t read too much into that theory.
Another source for the story may have been one of perception. Cemetery workers, lacking power equipment, couldn’t excavate graves in the frozen ground and bodies had to be stored in their caskets until the soil thawed in Spring. Most cemeteries had a cold storage cellar, and without deep snow hindering the horse and wagon people could bring a loved one’s coffin there instead of leaving it out in their wood shed.
The coffins would have stacked up noticably in the mausoleum giving rise to the fear of an open winter.
Or – just maybe – the story is spot on.