Embracing Winter (as opposed to Bracing for Winter)

Call me an outlier, but I have never understood why Vermont winters have such a bad reputation, or why so many snowbirds head south this time of year. Say what you will, but over the years I have come to love the days between the winter solstice and vernal equinox. Perhaps it is because I prefer being a little cold to being a little hot, a warm woolen sweater to a sleeveless tank-top, the radiant heat of a wood stove to the annoying hum of an air conditioner. Or maybe it has something to do with the happy childhood memories it conjures up for me: skating on frozen ponds, the comforting hiss of an iron radiator, the excitement of breaking off an icicle to lick and, of course, snow!

When I recall of the New England winters of my youth, what I remember most is lots and lots of snow. The more inches that fell during the night and into the morning, the better, because it usually meant a day off from school. On those glorious unscheduled holidays, my sister and I would sit glued to the radio praying for the name of our school district to be called out on the cancellations list. Then, we’d rush to the coat closet and drag out put our bib snow pants, bulky parkas, red plastic boots (the kind that slid over your shoes), hats, mittens and scarves, and venture out into the back yard. Waist-deep in powder, we’d tunnel under forsythia bushes that bent to the ground, beckoning to us. Winter’s white landscape offered a blank canvas for my youthful imagination. The year the film Dr. Zhivago came out, I remember pretending I was crossing the frozen tundra, my eyelashes and eyebrows painted with frost, “Lara’s Theme” wafting through my head. When daylight turned to dusk, and the dinner bell rang, we would trudge sadly up the back stoop, our handknit woolen mittens stiff as blocks, our toes so cold we could not feel them.

Some years after children outgrow their snow pants, their love of playing in the snow ends. Beset by adult responsibilities, any joy they formerly derived from winter melts like a snowman on a 40-degree March day, and at some point, it becomes socially acceptable to denigrate this most maligned of seasons. I have observed that what adults of all ages seem to complain about most often is the cold, as if they expect something different during the four months between November 30 and March 31, but lately I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t the temperature of winter that is so bothersome so much as the inconvenience of it all, particularly when it comes to driving.

Here in Vermont, most people rely heavily on their personal vehicles for getting around. In fact, their livelihood, if not their very lives, depends on them. We live in a predominantly rural state, where, for most of us, getting to a grocery store, a pharmacy, a hardware store, a doctor’s appointment, the hairdresser, the post office, our workplace, a coffee shop, a restaurant, you name it, involves getting into our cars. In the winter months, this takes forethought and preparation. First there is the need to “winterize” your vehicle: switch over to snow tires, get it undercoated, add dry gas to the tank, replace the antifreeze, make sure your battery can stand up to freezing temperatures, and top off the windshield washer fluid. All before you even turn the key!

And unless you keep your car, truck or SUV in a garage, every time you go out you have to allow sufficient time to clear the driveway, warm up the engine, brush off the snow, and scrape the windshield. And before you leave the safety of home, you probably want to have a bucket of sand, some extra weight, a tow rope or chain, and a shovel handy, just in case you encounter a perilous patch of ice. Because even if you never get stuck, you never know when you’ll called upon to help out someone else.

Hazardous driving conditions notwithstanding, I still believe that winter is something to be enjoyed, not endured; celebrated, not cursed. And not because I ski. (I don’t.) But I do enjoy snowshoeing. In fact, I enjoy many activities that Vermont has to offer at this time of year. (P.S. You won’t find them in the land of snowbirds.) Here are a few of my favorites:

Waking up to a winter wonderland.
Delighting in a male cardinal’s bright red plumage contrasted against a backdrop of white.
Playing pick-up hockey outdoors, at night, under the lights.
Sipping hot mulled cider around a bonfire with friends.
Curling up with my knitting next to a cast-iron wood stove.
Wearing all my beautiful hand-knit accessories: hats, headbands, scarves, neck warmers, leg warmers, mittens, etc.
Walking in a silent wood and looking for animal tracks.
Going on a horse-drawn sleigh ride.
Taking in the view of a snow-covered ridge after snowshoeing up a mountain trail.
Eating sugar on snow.
Catching snowflakes on my tongue.

What’s your favorite winter activity?

Send your responses to dweggler@gmail.com, and I will publish them here.

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