January seems to really mean it this time. We have had two blizzards already this year and when I woke up this morning the thermometer said -8. This is getting serious. We keep setting records. It is the kind of cold that seems to change the atmosphere a bit. The wind has been so sharp that it hurts to breathe.
A blizzard is defined by snow combined with winds of at least thirty-five miles per hour. Accumulation is not supposed to be a factor, but still we have had about five feet of snow since the beginning of the year and these Nor’easters have brought big winds that make the chicken house out back just a blurry white outline so I am pretty sure we qualify.
The difference between the winter storms up here, besides the obvious differences of size and quantity, and the ones we used to get back home is mainly in the reporting. In St Louis the warnings were everywhere. Storm Center: in big red letters across an ominous black screen warned “Don’t drive” “Dress warm” Announcers told us to leave our houses only if absolutely necessary. A trip to the grocery store in the hours leading up to the storm during the height of the reporting would be disappointing. Bread shelves would often be bare. If you wanted a gallon of milk you had to settle for lots of those little unsatisfying cartons. I was never disappointed though since a storm might mean a snow day and that meant baking so I was usually headed to the baking aisle for more chocolate chips, maybe some bags of sugar and flour and a couple extra pounds of butter.
Up here though people barely take notice. The plow guys get ready. The farmers put their animals in the barn, but that’s really about it. The wood was all chopped and stacked months ago. The boiler gets topped up regularly this time of year. I was at our local dairy for milk just before the last storm hit. I mentioned to the farmer there that the snow had started and I’d read on my Internet newsfeed that it was going to be a big one. She answered that yeah it was January.
I have come to love January. There is something about all this snow. We aren’t totally sick of it yet and the blue skies and cold sunshine make the landscape pop. It is gorgeous. The sun gets piercingly bright and the sky achingly blue. The tops of the mountains are clearly outlined without the puff and clutter of all those leaves we are so famous for. Right now the bones of the mountains are distinct with occasional stands of piney woods for deep green color and of course plenty of white.
I have lived here long enough to appreciate it all, okay excepting maybe April, well and late February is no picnic either. By the end of next month we are sick to death of grainy floors, dirty boots, mismatched gloves and all the rest. March warms up and we all get dewy eyed and hopeful only to be shattered by April which never manages to answer the promise of those first warm days in March. There are no leaves for most of April and it rains unendingly. It is the kind of cold that tricks you into thinking it will be warmer than it is and so you choose the wrong clothes and go about chilled for days on end even though the temperatures may even be in the forties which in January would have had you wearing shorts. But in January you expect it to be cold and so when the sun shines and it hits 20 you feel warm and jolly. Actually anything above ten or fifteen feels plenty warm when your expectations got set at 1 or 2. After 15 you can take off your coat and be plenty warm in a vest, your ubiquitous scarf and some good gloves. Truly. By January one has adjusted.
January means soups and stews and homemade bread. Last week I made potato bread from some leftover mashed potatoes and wonderful salt form the Mediterranean Sea. You can really taste salt when the air outside shimmers with the cold. Everything is brighter and more urgent somehow.
Right now we have sweet little meandering flurries. I have had a big run of pressing work which has meant lots of long early morning drives before sunrise and twice during some pretty hefty snowfalls. So this afternoon I am holding tight to my mug of hot tea. The honey at the bottom of my cup comes from bees who live just up the road. It runs a lovely summery gold and is thick and sweet. I am grateful in some almost profound way for the light and sweetness of this honey.
January is a time when these small pleasures seem bigger. They wouldn’t get much notice amid the lushness of a summer afternoon set next to a crashing surf. But up here when life gets bared down to the essentials of heat and food the beauty of a gentle snowfall and sweet honey is amplified.
It’s January and I’m glad.