While getting my hair cut today, I overheard an elderly woman talking to one of the hairdressers. Asked how she was doing, she answered, “Can’t complain. Won’t do any good. But I’m sick of winter like everyone else.” I’m hearing a lot of such griping and bitterness, and ranting and threats to move south these days, but the fact is, it’s not true that everyone hates winter around here.
Over the two weeks of the Olympics, we watched snowboard cross, and slope style, and biathlon, and anything else we could find. Some of these athletes chase winter from hemisphere to hemisphere all year round, seeking it in the high elevations when it recedes from the lowlands. They voluntarily follow it, these red-cheeked, blissed out, glowing blonde Scandinavians, or grinning, loping, scruffy snowboarders. What is the secret to feeling such joy in a monochrome world of snow pack to your eyeballs? Snow pants.
I am not some Pollyanna with an inability to look on the dark side of life, after all, my last two posts were about the quotidian tedium and unpleasantness of raising children. But with a good pair of snow pants, I find that winter loses its power to demoralize. In fact, I quite like it. Last week, Simon and I snowshoed out into our frozen swamp. We didn’t get far, but settled for a spot within view of the house under a stand of swamp alder and bare red maple. Simon was in his full snow suit with built in compass, reflector belt, and high collar. I had on my snow pants and down jacket. He said he was done walking, so we both keeled over backward and dropped into the snow on our backs, making what we refer to as snow chairs. Perfectly molded to our posteriors, these snow chairs are immensely comfortable, and we lay there in the swamp, listening and watching what there was to watch.
No sound of snow melt, seepage, or runnels carving under the snow this early, and not many birds either. It had been raining all day, and a frozen drizzle pelted lightly on our exteriors. One staccato thrum from a woodpecker, and the wind in the trees was all we heard. Simon asked me to sing to him, and I got through all the verses I could remember of “Come all ye bold sailor men” while we lay there, warm in the right gear. I finished the song, and we lay quiet, watching one slender white pine whisking the low ceiling of gray stratus.
A sunless day, a cold day, a day of frozen drizzle, and still, we went out. Warm, dry and snug in our suits, we followed our own postholes home, stopping to examine a nurse log, heavy laden with mosses and lichens and fungus. What would we be doing in summer but the same thing–taking hikes that don’t lead us very far, growing distracted by small living things, meandering back home. The cold and the snow are no barrier to that, so long as one has a good pair of snow pants. I have many friends who disagree, both those born in warmer climes, and those raised around here who’ve fled. I suppose winter’s not for everyone, but the light has been lengthening and changing its quality for more than two months now. The nights are not so aggressive, chewing away at both ends of the day like they do in December. It’s beautiful out there, and there are wood frogs alive and frozen solid in the leaf litter a foot and a half under the snow surface we walk on who will be quacking out their love songs come April. All the living things are gathering strength. I can feel their thrumming underneath.
I don’t enjoy discomfort any more than the average person. The little unpleasantries of winter–knuckles cracked and bleeding, days on end when I can’t seem to achieve normal body temperature, the chronic shoulder strain that comes from hunching up against the wind in a jacket too optimistic for the weather–these aggravate me too. Suited up right, with snowshoes strapped on snug though, winter is something to be strode into same as any season. And snow pants shall set us free.