Cold Comfort

February 9, 2015 by Ellen Stimson in Wintertime

imagesWoke up to a blue morning. The mountains were purple and the sky was lightening slowly from Bible black to deep blue before settling  back to white. It has been a good winter with plentiful snow. There have been more than the usual number of snowdays so the kids are happy. So are the skiers. The people who don’t like winter are happy because they are getting to practice their fine art of grumbling and grousing and we who love winter can bundle up and walk in the woods with the dogs or in the village streets past billows of snowdrifts in the friendly lamplight of the village houses. The snow is falling again today, softly like a giant whispering. It makes me glad.

We had a guest here last week when the temperatures were thrillingly cold. One morning at about four-thirty when the dogs had heard an owl and couldn’t get back to sleep without checking on it,  our thermometer outside the kitchen window said minus twenty-four. I was sure it must have broken. But then I checked my computer and it said the local temp was minus twenty-two. So I guessed my old thermometer was working after all. Our guest was chilled despite the pile of blankets and the old boiler burring up oil as fast as it could. So we grabbed hats and coats, gloves and scarves and  I took her outside for a little walk about. When we came back inside it felt toasty by comparison and  she was warm. It’s all about perspective. 

I grew up in a time when you didn’t complain about winter. We didn’t know what the polar vortex even was. The sky looked foreboding and you bundled up. The car froze and you poured hot water on the doors to open them, then one of you sat inside while the other poured more hot water on the engine just as you turned the key and gave it gas. It usually worked. 
Winter gave a sense of purpose. We persevered. There were no light thermal underlayers. You wore heavy clothes and kept warm from the exertion of wearing them. I had a red snowsuit as a child that I swear weighed as much as I did. My mother was stoic. She believed if you were comfortable in your flannel nightgown, robe, socks and slippers, why then, the house must be too warm. She liked to see her breath by the back door. That was how she knew we were Getting Our Money’s Worth. In the morning she would slow cook the oats on the stove with butter and maple syrup  (the real stuff, no Aunt Jemima for us) and brown sugar. It was thick and heavy. It probably added another five ponds or so to the weight of the winter clothes. But when you got up from the table you were full and warm and ready to face whatever the outside threw your way. 

Here in Vermont the farmers like to talk about the winter when ….. “the snow was so high you could sled off the barn roof” or “…the wind blew so cold it took the barn roof to New Hampshire.”

Winter is satisfying to us. We don’t move to the land of endless summer because summer is a destination to be yearned for, which is what makes it so good. You need winter to appreciate the summer.  Winter has a savage grandeur. You lean into it and make snow angels or even  bury yourself in your bed under a big pile of blankets like a bear and you’ll see, you won’t need your therapist so much come spring.
This morning in the early blue light my old kitchen window (the only original one we kept)  was covered with a tangle of frost flora. Before I lit the oven I could see my breath. My mom would be proud. I must be getting my money’s worth. 

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