Taking Delight in Cold Winter Weather
All the women in my life are cold, so cold.
"Let's go watch TV in bed," proposes my wife as we sit together in the den. She's huddled under a wool throw. "I'm so cold. You'll warm me up."
She prepares for bed as if she's going ice climbing - tights, socks, a T-shirt or two, layers upon layers - and jumps under the covers, two down comforters and a cotton blanket, mind you. She scoots over to my person, snuggling, burrowing her adorable ice-climber face, rubbing her cold fingers like I'm a Girl Scout campfire. "Brr. That's better. You're so warm!"
"That's me, ma'am, wanna make S'mores?" No answer. My wife hates winter - the gray, the cold, the short days and the long nights. She was born in July, poor thing, Bastille Day to be exact. The French don't like cold anything except potato soup. I, on the other hand, love winter. Adore it, actually. But then, I am a son of the season's coldest heart, Groundhog Day, if you must know. People send me cards that plaintively read "Happy Birthday ... How much more of this cold!" I actually like it when it's gray, cold, leaking the last light of day, threatening snow. I root for Punxsutawney Phil to see his shadow
That's because snow in the South is always a surprise, an impromptu holiday, nature's way of saying slow down, y'all.
Perhaps this is what keeps our marriage so interesting and on its toes. Summer girl, winter boy. We need each other, my shivering Yankee wife and me, seasonally speaking and otherwise, though sometimes when she suddenly pokes her ice-cold toes into my naturally warm ones I yelp and briefly yearn for bachelorhood.
But then again, I've only known one woman who actually professed to like winter, a lady who kept the books at the magazine where I worked in New Hampshire, an accountant by trade. Her name was Mitzy. She may have been Icelandic or Siberian or possibly Swiss. Her hair was ice-blond, severely cropped. Her manner made an iceberg seem imminently huggable.
I always suspected Mitzy had a second job moonlighting as an interrogator for the CIA, conducting renditions on suspected Soviet spies forced to sit naked on a block of ice at an undisclosed place in Newfoundland while she pinched a filterless cigarette and calmly demanded to know contact code names.
Mitzy took her summer vacations to places such as the Arctic Circle, Finland's northern glacial fields and bingo cruises to the Bering Straits. "Cold makes people strong and productive," she once declared to me, a little unnervingly. "Warm makes people crazy and lazy. Where exactly are you from, boy?" "North Carolina," I answered bravely, truthfully, but quickly added, "It snows there more than people think."
Drives Us Inward
Be that as it may, save for coldly efficient Mitzy, every other female I've ever known despairs the cold all winter long. They secretly hate winter, from their frozen designer toes to their wool-scarfed chins. This includes my partner at PineStraw - a fabulously stylish woman who covers herself up like an Eskimo woman from roughly Columbus Day to Easter - and my own daughter who grew up in Maine and phones from her snug apartment near the college just to tell me she's freezing her buttons off. "It's so cold here, Dad," she moans from the great frozen North.
"Well, honey, it is Vermont. And it is winter."
"I know." Sniff, sniff. "But why does it have to be so cold? What's it like down there?"
Nice, I tell her. Beautiful day in the 50s, lots of sun and pools of warmth, the usual Sandhills winter - but maybe a chance of snow on the weekend, though. She doesn't find this news at all pleasing, though it never fails to perk me up.
In winter, even here, I don't want to play golf or do anything else except maybe haul wood, build a fire and stare moodily at the flames. I want to drink Indian tea and wear wool socks. In ways both visible and not, winter drives us inward, to take life inventory in a fallow season, to plant a few seeds and coax them along with warming lamps and tiny dreams of spring.
If there's anything nicer than sitting in a patch of warm January sunlight falling through a window on a cold winter day, reading a book or catching a quick nap, I can't for the moment name it. Then there is the majesty of winter skies. During the 20 years we lived on a hill in Maine, I loved going out after midnight in middle January to feed a family of deer that congregated at the edge of the vast forest behind our house. When it wasn't snowing, the sky often looked like a million diamonds scattered on black velvet.
I'd put on my thick wool Elmer Fudd jacket and my insulated knee boots, hoist a 50-pound sack of sorghum and trudge 200 yards through the crusty snow to the back of the property, where I had a entire family of white-tailed deer trained to eat several hosta plants I let go wild in summer. That was their part of our arrangement. The deer would eat those hostas and leave my garden be, and I would feed them sorghum pellets on the coldest winter nights.
One night, I walked right up on a mama and her yearling calmly waiting for me in the moonlight. I stripped open the bag and poured out the feed in a large feeding circle, heard a snort and turned around to find a young bull moose standing there, too. "Welcome," I said, but the big fella just blinked at me.
Gentler N.C. Winter
Sometimes I really miss those nights. But I had 20 years of them, hopefully enough cold to keep me in nice winter memories. And to be fair, I don't really miss shoveling snow all that much, and especially not busting my tailbone on our icy porch steps, although there's something about waking up to a world freshly buried in two feet of new snow that reminds a fellow how insignificant he really is in the larger scheme of things.
Every mile in winter is two, the poet George Herbert is supposed to have said. But that's part of winter's charm. Ten years ago, I learned this and then some when a freakish ice storm struck in early January, freezing rain at 19 degrees, knocking down a million trees and pitching 800,000 people into the dark across Maine and New Brunswick for more than a fortnight. My house was six miles out of town, up a hill in the forest, one of the last one crews were able to reach.
With no power save for whatever I generated on my own, I sat feeding our wood stove for 16 days, eating soup and tea warmed on the stove, chain-sawing downed trees by day, reading a bit by candlelight, turning in not long after sunset and feeling a little like Silas Marner.
Ironically, the crew that finally reached my door was from Duke Power in Greensboro, unshaven Carolina boys armed with their own chain saws. Crews from half a dozen states had been flown in to help restore the power. While the furnace below us rumbled back to life, I made them coffee, and we talked about ACC basketball. Suddenly I was homesick for gentler North Carolina winters. Which is why, if snow comes again again as predicted Monday, I won't be the least bit disappointed - but, in fact, perfectly happy to serve as a human hot water bottle.
Award-winning author Jim Dodson, Sunday essayist for The Pilot and editor of PineStraw magazine, can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
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