Through all the years little Findley Lake served as our home base, we participated - as did everyone in the village - in the annual unofficial guessing game known as "when will the ice leave the lake."
There were deep and frigid winters when the lake would be held captive to the frozen coating until well into April. And, in other not-so-frosty seasons, the last of the ice would be gone by mid March.
But, in all those years, I don't recall any winter when there was absolutely no ice on the lake at all. Yet, the 2011-2012 season in little Findley Lake has - at least so far - claimed the distinction of being that rare ice-free winter.
Nearby areas are experiencing the same situation. Anne DeSorro, the Naturalist at Erie's Presque Isle State Park, said recently, "In the 18 years I've been here, I don't remember the lake not freezing at least a few feet from shore."
Actually, across western New York as well as throughout the country, this winter has been close to a no-show.
For instance, Buffalo, that traditional host of lake-effect storms, has only recorded 33 inches of the white stuff so far this season. The blustery city normally averages more than 94 inches.
Other usually snowy spots across the state are also finding the current season surprisingly open. Rochester's snowfall of 47.6 inches is a far cry from the 102.2 recorded last winter. And Syracuse, at 37.1, is well behind the 150.9 inches dumped on that city in 2010-2011.
Closer to home, the Village of Mayville posted a snowfall total on Feb. 23, of 90.5 inches. Until this winter, the lowest ever recorded in the Village was 115.5 in 1953.
When our family of three began our wintertime snowbird trips to Florida in 1993, we kept tabs on Mayville's snowfall records, just to see what we were missing. That first winter, we discovered the village had recorded a total for the season of 240 inches.
That's 20 feet.
It's safe to say, during this strange period Chautauqua County has seen more bike riding than skiing, more hiking than snowmobiling. And, for many folks, the change has been welcome, if a bit confusing.
Unfortunately, since all things in nature are linked, the lack of snow will undoubtedly have an impact on the months ahead.
Presque Isle Naturalist DeSorro has joined many scientists across the country in commenting on the wimpy winter. DeSorro said the very low snowfall doesn't just mean no snow shoveling or skiing.
"This can reverberate throughout the natural world, at least through summer," she said.
The negatives include more bugs, insects, even parasites. And, if blossoms of tender trees and grapes should emerge early, then sustain a frost, the effect on future crops can be serious.
Ah, but since Mother Nature has given us all this mixed-blessing gift of an open, less-stressful winter, we may as well enjoy the bonus and get outside more, take that walk, ride that bike, pack an early picnic, do whatever you can to savor this break in what is usually a miserable season. No doubt, we'll have to pay for the benefits in due time, but while you're enjoying an early spring, how can you regret the fact that your snow shovel, your ice scraper and your tire chains took the winter off?