Vol 13, Num 1 ::
Our children live in the city and the rest upon our shoulders.
They don’t want the rain to fall or the weather to get colder.
Nancy Griffith, “Trouble in the Fields”
Come March, I can feel myself yearning toward spring. I’m ready for asparagus, for bare feet, for leaves on the trees. But before that: I love winter. I sleep longer, I stay in more, I delight in special treats that are just right for the cold weather.
Like the plains are to landforms, winter tends to be maligned among the seasons, but winter is good for the earth and its creatures — a Sabbath, or at least a different rhythm of life from the aggressive fecundity of summer. Farmers and those who live closer to the earth get it. Learning to appreciate winter’s beauties in spite of its difficulties is not unlike learning to love certain people (ourselves included) for all that they are.
And so, from the midst of piles of snow so huge that we have no idea where to go with them anymore, here are ten things I love about winter as I’ve experienced it in the Midwestern U.S.
- Layers. According to Margaret Kim Peterson in the book Keeping House, the Swedish have a saying: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.” I knew this as a kid, but in the fever of coolness that overtook me in my teens, I began to resent winter, when it was really my wardrobe that was the problem (and perhaps also having to catch a bus at 6:35 a.m.). Embracing warm layers and dorky hats and big boots helped me remember that winter can be delightful.
- Snow pants. C’mon, they’re not just for kids. Every adult who lives in a northern climate should have waterproof pants they can layer on to enjoy the outdoors in any kind of weather. Warning: snow pants may lead to sledding.
- Flannel sheets. Let’s just say I’m not one for pajamas, and there’s nothing quite like cranking down the thermostat and crawling into a cocoon of heavy blankets lined with soft flannel to send me into hibernation.
- Hot cocoa. My favorite variety starts with a large mug of raw milk. I pour the milk into a pan and heat it on the stove, whisking to mix in a heaping tablespoon each of cocoa powder and sugar, and a drop of vanilla (all from the fair trade store downstairs).
- A windless morning after snow. When I got to work last week, it was -11 degrees Fahrenheit, but I couldn’t resist pausing for a moment when I got out of the car to take in the loveliness of the scene: the living, hibernating earth sheltered in a layer of down, no sign of movement except the smoke from the neighbor’s chimney. It was soft and sharp all at once.
- Candles. Living on the second floor of a building that was built in 1865 and has no air conditioning, there are several months out of the year when I don’t even want to look at a candle, much less light one. This time of year, however, a small, elemental glow of fire is like soul food. My favorite variety are soy or palm oil from the earth-friendly goods shop next door. Would that we still had one of the wood stoves that used to be in our place…
- Adequate heat and insulation. I know we humans could do a lot to improve how we power our lives. I also know that there are too many people who don’t have access to places that are warm enough for survival, much less comfort. It is a mystery to me why I get to live in a space that is efficiently insulated and heated — one that makes me give thanks and aspire to share more.
- Bodies. Shoveling snow, snuggling close on the couch, a brisk walk, breathing in the sharpness of sub-zero air: cold-weather aliveness is just different from warm-weather aliveness. I’m glad to live in a place where I get to experience both ways of being embodied within each year.
- Ice. Don’t be fooled by the neat little cubes in your freezer: ice is extremely dangerous, and equally beautiful. I appreciate the ways it surprises me, and reminds me of all that is outside of my (our) control, and all that is so complex in its hurtfulness and healing. I think of the stunning beauty of the earth when ice coats every glittering branch and glistening surface — so lovely that it almost physically hurts because I can’t hold onto it.
- Snow days. As someone who’s perpetually overcommitted, I’m grateful when the weather commands me to stay home and remember that the world will keep spinning without me. But even better than that is the sense of social contract. It’s like a collective time-out when we all agree to stop worrying about who’s going to win the game and build a snow fort together instead.