It’s the time of year when it’s pretty gray out all day and evening, and when the sun does come out it dances off the snow and causes your eyes to squint from the blinding reflection on the windshield. My Gram used to call this the winter blues. For a long time when I was little I thought that the air really turned blue in the winter kind of like sunny July meant swimming down at the lake.
The unrelenting monochrome of the landscape, the mud room filled with snowy salted boots, hats and gloves missing their match, (covered with dog hair since the hat and glove basket provides such an inviting spot for Staurt), and the traces of wood everywhere from hauling up the firewood, makes everything seem messy and tired. Even the birds in town seem bored.
Since moving up here the weather occupies a whole bunch of my thoughts. Not as in the ‘hot enough for you?’, or ‘big snow’s acomin’, chat at the general store. It is rather more about how deeply it affects our lives. It colors our moods, and defines our activities. When you move to a place where the NYT doesn’t get delivered before 8 or 9 most mornings, your routines are changed. Instead you might do early walks with
the dogs in the woods, except not when it is 5 below, and not in mud season either. If you travel for work those same early mornings when you are in town, might be perfect times to hike up to the waterfall with your husband and a hot thermos of coffee. That doesn’t work when the trails are icy, or even when the autumnal rains make the leaves a slippery worry.
I didn’t think about outside much when we lived in the city. I did however carry an umbrella. Umbrellas are for city people. People in Vermont just get wet. What is that about? Our gear is better up here for one thing. We have Orvis and the slickers really do keep out pretty much whatever the weather throws at you. But also, umbrellas seem froofy and unnecessary when you are hauling the pine tree off to the side of the road so you and all the other cars can get by. Living far away from most people enhances our connections to the natural world in unexpected ways.
There is no cell service here in the mountains. The environmentalists quashed the idea of towers up on the mountains, and the thousands of hours spent pleasurably watching the tourists wander into the street holding their phones this way and that make up for the lack of conversation I guess. When we first moved here we intended to take a year off to get us and our kids settled in. I stopped wearing a watch that year. There was something about not knowing when the papers would actually come, or being able to get calls on my cell, and the wind knocking out the satellite, thus the Internet unpredictably, (and often), that made a watch seem frivolous. I still don’t wear one five years later. The white patch on my wrist has finally blended in with the rest of my arm. Just like I too am finally starting to blend into this place.
When the winter blues hit, I know that the Galapagos isn’t the long term answer. Go find the sun at your peril, because you’ll come home to three more months of this. One needs to find a more lasting accord with winter here. So, I sing big loud spiritual
anthems. I dip my voice and growl like I imagine Aretha might. And I wash things. Laundry is keenly satisfying in the winter. You wash your shower curtains, and your rugs. Then you take a hot bath and step onto a newly fluffed rug and feel just a little bit pampered. Holidays equal decorating which as any homemaker could have told us chases away the blues. Winter has a look following fall. First there are leaf garlands, and baskets of apples. Next come spooky witches and fat pumpkins. Then you get Thanksgiving and gourds and horns of plenty, followed by The Biggy, with the largest tree that will fit, a gaudy snowmen flag, and the ornaments lovingly collected over five lives. Then the blues hit hard and gray and you have to make believe that Valentine’s Day is a real holiday. You plant some red tulips for the buffet. You get a goofy flag with hearts on boxers or something, and you add red pillows to every couch you own. Then on the first sunny..(okay, how about light gray day with some white light coming through…is that better?), you go into the woods early with the dogs and a big basket. You put on your best shawl for charm, and pretend this is what you do everyday. (So you put it on over your coat which is over your sweater, which covers your favorite flannel shirt, which tops your silk longjohns. Big deal.) In the summer you do it for blueberries and in the autumn it is bittersweet. On these Ansel Adams day you bring back pinecones and strips of white birch. You fill big bowls with the stuff and add some red berries. Before you know it you are back with the kids and the dogs by the fire with cups of peppery Aztec cocoa. After they’re all asleep you and your husband watch the movie Body Heat, ( Netflix, we do after all have mail), and light every candle you own. When you start feeling warm and cheery you know that you have chased them away. And pretty soon it will be Easter…maybe still snowy, but those colorful eggs will surely to do the trick.