Living on Winter Time


Our winter view (photo by Dana Gillette)


When I moved to Northampton, a local in line with me at the DMV asked, with a mildly malicious twinkle in his eye, “So, have you experienced one of our New England winters yet?” I now know that it was a characteristically Massachusetts question, one that combined equal parts boast, complaint, and the desire to scare away outsiders.

He didn’t scare me. I had moved here from Minnesota. I had experienced high temps of -17, two and a half feet of snow on Halloween, and an ice storm that lasted three weeks. I went north in the winter, to see the frozen waves on the shore of Lake Superior and the icy quiet of the Boundary Waters in February. I had long underwear sorted into different temperature categories, as well as wool socks, hats, gloves, scarves, and mittens for every weather variation. I had an L.L. Bean Bay State Parka.

Although the Minnesota winters are colder and snowier, they are consistent. There aren’t great fluctuations in temperature, so there is less melting and refreezing, and therefore less ice. They are sunnier as well. A classic January day is bright blue skies and a high of 2. More importantly, Minnesota and its residents are built for winter. Sure, they may complain, but natives talk about the weather (and they do talk about the weather, a lot) with pride and a certain amount of awe. Houses are constructed for the weather, pipes don’t freeze, furnaces generally make it through the season. Cities are built with tunnels and walkways, so you can stay inside if you want to. But more importantly, people go out. Weather rarely stops them: they skate, play hockey or broomball, cross-country ski, and they go out for hearty farmer’s breakfasts (eggs, potatoes, cheese, and veggies all cooked together).

I suspect that I’d find more of the respectful awe and acceptance of winter in Northern New England, in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Around here, if seems like most people are fighting it tooth and nail. Perhaps I’d find less whining among the natives, most people I know in the area are transplants. (Note: People in Central and Eastern Mass are excused for their whining about the snow this winter, because it is nuts, as is anyone who has a dead furnace or burst pipes).

We live here. Perhaps you have no choice: something keeps you from moving to a warmer climate (and bigger bugs). Or perhaps you are enamored of Western Mass, its people, landscape, and politics. Perhaps you love the kind of people who love a New England winter, people who couldn’t bear to live anywhere else. No matter the reason, winter isn’t going anywhere and neither are we, so it’s time for a truce.

Step outside on a clear frigid night and notice the way the air smells. I have yet to find the words to describe it, but I always recognize it when I first find it in the early weeks of winter. Sharp? Crisp? Elemental? The perfume of a world at rest?

Perfect the art of dressing for the cold. It’s a challenge and a skill. Silk long underwear for mild days, in the 20s and 30s. Polypropylene when the temperature drops more and the wind picks up. Duofold when it goes below 15. Wool socks and liners. Soft scarfs and mittens. There is no such thing as too cold—there are just bad clothing choices.

Get out in it. Walk, especially at night when you can spy on your neighbors through their windows. Take up a winter sport and learn how to dress for it. I vote for cross-country skiing, since I don’t like going down hills at high speeds and I don’t like trudging up hills with a sled.

Or make a snow monster

Or make a snow monster

Embrace snow shoveling. It is an excellent workout if you use good form and it may be the only time you see your neighbors. Do it after dark—the stillness and quiet of a cold night is part of winter’s charm. Listen to some music or a podcast if you need distraction. I recommend Stuff you Missed in History Class. I can’t hear the name Tycho Brahe without thinking of clearing my car; Caravaggio reminds me of shoveling the front porch.

Luxuriate in your cozy house on a cold night or during a storm. Bake bread and pies. Make stew. Pretend you’re the Ingalls family. Cuddle on the couch under a blanket, drink hot chocolate or a hot toddy, and watch a movie or television show with little cultural value. Reread a favorite book.

Enjoy the fact that winter makes you slow down. You can’t drive fast. You can’t even walk fast without slipping. You spend more time at home. You spend more time with your children, which can sometimes slow time to a complete stop. Recalibrate your pace, slow your life, slow your breath, start living on winter time. You can speed up again in April.

Have more sex. What better is there to do under a duvet?

Keep lip balm and moisturizer in every room in your house and every bag you carry.

Sometimes, when I’m scraping the car at 7:00 a.m. and it’s 2 below zero, I ask myself: do I really like this or am I just saying that out of stubbornness or pride?

It’s like having a baby. There are so many things, from pregnancy to nursing a kid with a stomach bug that make the whole parenting process seem like a royal pain in the ass. But I still love having children. And I still love winter. However, I could really use a garage.

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One Response to Living on Winter Time

  1. Lee Thomson says:

    all of this is true and lovely!

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