The Cold War

Oddly enough, this winter is okay with me. We’ve had snow, and more snow, and not a day of temperature respite in four months.  It’s unusual for Kansas City.   Most winters, we have a day or so a month that the air bobs up to 50 or even 60, and I take the top down on my ancient convertible and remember what air feels like when it’s human-friendly.  Not this winter.  Yet I am okay with this.

Every other February of my life, I have been the most vocal invoker of spring.  I have been the first to say, “Oh, my God, can you believe it is snowing AGAIN?”  It has snowed so much this year, people don’t even talk about it anymore.  This must be what it’s like somewhere up north, where I deliberately don’t live because I’m too skinny to survive.

Every other winter, I eyed my open-toed shoes and sundresses lustfully.  I developed an antipathy for wool and long underwear and layers that make you squirm to shake everything down to its natural level.  I looked at the stripped tree limbs and felt only the loss of their lush, spread-eagle leaves.  I daydreamed about lying on living grass, with sun glaze on my bare, dirty feet.

I don’t feel so dissatisfied this year.

This winter feels protective. The cold keeps me tucked away.  The snow insulates what looks dead, and spreads clean, consistent color where there were organic browns, pale midwestern house paints, and silver cars smudged with road muck.

This winter, I’m not ready yet to underdress and let everyone see my toes.  I know I have more time to preserve what’s good and sift out what’s moldy– literally and metaphorically.  I know I need more time to regroup, before I throw open my house.

I have never understood what winter had to offer, at least not after a cheerfully snowy Christmas and New Year’s.  The dark and cold always made me frustrated.  Personal losses mirror our loss of space and splashy beauty and open windows.

But I’ve never exercised this much through a winter.  I don’t feel stir crazy or numb when I’ve run a mile.  Exercise burns off anger.  So sometimes I’m sadder afterward, but not frozen.  It also helps to live in small space I can afford to heat to a pleasant temperature, and, thanks to our school’s elderly boiler, work in a decidedly balmy classroom.  I would also heartily recommend the hot tub, and a humidifier.

Good habits and cozy environs help.  It’s also possible winter and I have finally come to a truce.  Winter cocoons you, and I may have learned some more value in patience and self-protection.

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The Last Frontier

On a day like today, I think about Going To Alaska.  I escaped work by trudging over to the gas station on the corner.  Slowly.  Slowly.  Keeping the snow below the edge of my sneakers, and keeping my feet under me.  I drive a stick.  I live upstairs.  I can’t be breaking my ankle.  It was cold, but I was bundled up well.  I stepped in someone else’s footprints, down the sidewalk.

One of my favorite wintertime games in elementary school followed this agenda: walk in large circles, following a pretend route on a pretend map, and speak solemnly of our preparation, progress, and hope for Going to Alaska.

My friend Eric was a valued member of our expedition.  I still see him occasionally, and he is probably also imagining himself Going to Alaska today.

In those days, children were sent outside for recess every day.  There was some windchill rule (which I never remember being enforced), and if you did not have snowpants and boots, you were not allowed out in the field on certain days, but everybody went outside.  It kept you healthy, all that fresh air.  No one was allergic to snow.  No one had asthma.  The athletic among us played soccer and softball, and nerds like Eric and me, we went to Alaska.

We learned a lot of valuable lessons on these days.  We learned to make our own meaning.  We learned to pretend like we knew where we were going.  We practiced complaining.  These are critical adult skills, whether you are Going To Alaska or Going to Buy a Snickers, as I was today.