Winter essay

Now Embracing Winter Warmly  

Winter is a weather reality for most of us who live in North America. While the extremes and severity of said weather vary, depending on the latitudinal coordinate where you reside, it amazes me how much more people complain these days about the cold, snow and even road conditions.

Maybe this form of amnesia about the verisimilitude of winter’s ways is tied to our hubris, born from the post-modern belief that technology trumps everything else, including weather. It might also be fueled by local media outlets, in their newfound quest to entertain, rather than educate. Nothing makes greater theater than a winter storm. From the opening strains of the dark and sinister “storm center” music, to incessant live reports from the turnpike, the airport and other locations out and about. Does it ever occur to anyone, anymore, that it snows in the winter?

I’ve been a resident of the Northeastern United Stated for most of my 45 years. I remember the significant snows of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was 1978, in fact, when New England experienced one of her most severe winter storms. This “storm of the century” brought continuous snow for 33 hours, three times the duration of your typical Northeaster. Over 3,500 cars had to be abandoned on highways and interstates, in and around Boston. Numerous coastal homes along the New England shoreline, and as far south as Long Island, washed into the sea.

In the 1980s, I left the parochial ways of New England and made my way to the Midwest, settling along the shores of Lake Michigan, living in northwest Indiana during that time. I had no idea that this region, like other places tucked up tight to one of the Great Lakes, can experience lake effect snows and storms that rival anything New England can dish out, in the way of winter wantonness. One particular storm that occurred in 1984, brought snow and strong winds, causing whiteouts and drifting snow piled 12-15 feet high. As a result, many major routes, including the Indiana Tollway, which is one of the nation’s major trucking corridors, was closed for nearly a day, bringing commerce and shipping to a standstill.

Back home in the Northeast, we’ve not experienced the decade-long patterns of snowfall and severe cold that were more common 25 to 30 years ago. This often gets attributed to climate change. Without getting into the politics of global warming, it does appear true that our winters have gotten milder and not quite as severe. Despite an alteration in traditional patterns, we still have our snow and stretches of sub-arctic temperatures, when the mercury rarely comes close to constituting a thaw. In fact, 10 years ago this January, the northeast, from New England to New York and large portions of eastern Canada was shut down by the Great Ice Storm of ’98. Residents were without power for as long as a month, as the electrical grid and power infrastructure was severely affected by a thick sheet of ice.

Despite growing up during a time when children played out during the winter months, enjoying the snow and all its activities, like many adults, I had acquired a dread and dislike for the four months of winter. I even began contemplating moving to a warmer climate, so I no longer had to deal with sub-freezing weather and all its attendant issues.

Something changed for me, three winters ago, however. It was during the winter of 2004-2005, when I was working out of my home and working on the manuscript of my first book. During that winter, I’d rise early, before dawn and grind out 15-20 pages of my manuscript. Fueled by coffee, classical music in the background and the crackle coming from my wood stove, winter took on a new significance for me.

January and February that year brought significant enough snowfalls to support daily jaunts through the woods on my x-country skis. By noon each day, my trusty Sheltie, Bernie, would rise and shake himself from his slumber. This was my signal to wrap up my writing for the day and strap my skis on. Off the two of us would trek, behind my home, through the pine forests and along ancient rock walls, formed by farmers who had come to New England to try to grow something in our boulder-strewn soil. Nearly every day for close to two months, that became our routine. Amazingly, the dread of winter had been shaken from my bones by my newfound appreciation for the beauty that can only come from the afternoon sun reflected on a winter snow pack. The only sound most of my time weaving amongst the trees and trails was the swish of the skis cutting through white powder and Bernie’s occasional barks at smells and fresh tracks laid by rabbits and deer.

From the former darkness that had been winter in my own mind, came a finished manuscript that would become an award-winning book. Even better was the acquisition of a new appreciation for the ebb and flow of the four seasons.

No longer was winter the season that I had come to dread. Gone was its season of hibernation, weight gain and lethargy, all too often fueled by television and a bit too much beer. Now, winter’s become the time of year to get things done that often get crowded out during summer’s longer days, gardening, Saturday’s by the seashore and home repairs. It also became a time of fitness and physical renewal, with fitness taking on new variety, with the likes of x-country skiing, snow shoeing and even the incessant shoveling that comes from country living.

Fret about the next patch of frightful weather if you want. Or, you can hearken back to those who came before us, back before television, laptops and iPods. These pioneers are now my role models for dealing with life’s hardships, teaching me preparation, a touch of creativity and a solid dose of stoicism thrown in for good measure.

And guess what? Winter never felt better to me.

X-country path

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1 Comment

Filed under Essays

One response to “Winter essay

  1. Thanks for writing this.

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