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The differentness of winter

February 15, 2010

“What do you like about winter?” I asked Dan on our date last weekend. It’s hard not to contemplate winter when you’re crunching through a snowy meadow, icy wind blowing the dust out of your pores.

“I like the differentness of it.” He replied. “I like how stark and raw the land is, the low slant of the sun, the long shadows.”

“Hmmm.” I said politely, thinking of how I’ve been scraping snow off the inside of our car windshield in the mornings, about the differentness of flakes swirling onto my lap, the differentness of being inside a snow globe.

I’ve never begrudged winter. I love to cross country ski, or just to walk in the snowy woods admiring the hardy birds that stay the season. I love the quiet fury of snow raging from an opaque sky. I love the aesthetics of snow packed like a vanilla icing on the local ridges, decorated with the stubby green sprinkles of pinyon and juniper trees. Or the distant, white-chocolate peaks, a finger-swoop of melt-off pushed through the south-facing frosting. (What, you don’t see the landscape in terms of dessert?) I too, love the differentness of it, how possibilities shrink and you realize you haven’t left the house all afternoon. And while the kids are building indoor fort VXII, there you are in your kitchen stirring this amazing soup out of the unassuming split peas you’ve passed over for many seasons, but suddenly call to you.

I love how our front porch becomes our auxiliary fridge, holding overflow pots of pinto beans and elk stews.

I even love how contained within the winter ice is a classic love song for spring, full of pining and hope.

But here’s where it gets a bit dicey. You know where I’m going right? Those children that I adore, whose downy heads I can’t help but stroke when they’re within reach, whose bottoms I shamelessly squeeze until they politely tell me “that’s enough Mama!” Those children? They’re not winter-compatible.

They’re small, just little squirrels building their thick, winter coats. Neither is yet 30 pounds, or ahem, even 28; Col hasn’t a gram of body fat on his sleek frame. He wears a wet suit at our indoor, heated pool, teeth chattering out a sad tune, as I wonder if he’ll learn to swim before he gets hypothermia.

Infamous hobo camp; campfire + marshmallows = all's well

We try, goodness knows we try to get outside. I stuff those kids in their snowsuits nearly every day and one time—one time!—the boots and mittens and puffy jackets went on so effortlessly and cheerfully that the moment sits on the high shelf of my mind, like an athlete’s trophy, reminding me of success. More likely, Col wriggles inside his marshmallow-casing of layers, whining “it’s too bulky and funky!” (words I gave him, which I wish I hadn’t). Rose is amiable about suiting up, it’s the being outside that gets dodgy.

It helps if Col has a tool and a project. He loves a snow shovel and sometimes I send him out to the wilderness of our yard to simply move snow around. “Good job!” I call out from our chicken coop where I scrape frozen poop from the girls’ roost, as Col heaves a cascade of snow nowhere in particular. Yesterday he spent twenty minutes burying Rose’s tricycle with snow “so the skunks won’t get it.” I pictured a family of skunks taking a joyride down our street on Rose’s wheels. But Rose, understanding her brother completely, explained the real perils: “skunks make it smelly.”

Col is also diligently excavating a snow cave for our cat, who, y’know, likes snow as much as your cat does. But I encourage this endeavor, while I’m balancing Rose’s weight on my hip, reminding her for the thousandth time to lean into me. “I’m too small Mama, remember?” She replies. “When I’m five, I do that.”

And as much as we enjoy the differentness of winter, beneath those thick snowsuits, I can envision the bare skin of my children flashing in the summer heat, their dirt-smudged faces lifted to the brightness.

It’s not long now.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2010 1:17 pm

    Beautifully written! Love the part about your porch becoming an extension of your freezer. Ours has been known to serve that same purpose ;) Your last paragraph was my favorite. I swear I keep smelling watermelon and hearing Theo giggle as he sees har far he can spit a seed :)

    It’s not long. Stay warm up (down) there!

  2. woowoomama permalink
    February 15, 2010 1:57 pm

    the skunks. that had me laughing.

    i have the same snow issues. beanie loves it when he can be doing something in it. pea thinks she wants to go outside but can’t walk in the snow well enough, falls down, gets cold hands, and generally is mad at me that it isn’t easier to have fun.

    yes i gear them up in their five thousand layers and do it anyway. some days it is fairly fun and i think i should be more positive. other times i catch myself daydreaming about the weather where going outside means just opening the door for them. can you IMAGINE?

    p.s. i love that your date involved crunching through a snowy meadow

  3. Ami permalink
    February 15, 2010 4:09 pm

    Well, here we are virtually snow illiterate… Only visiting the snow once or twice a year, me gripping the wheel in a panic that the ice will literally throw me into the woods before I know what’s happening! Often I feel sad that we have cold summers and wet winters here, but spring… ah spring… it comes early and stays awhile. I believe its our longest season on the coast! For example, I’ve noticed our wisteria blooming for weeks, as opposed to just days inland… These days, we are greedily gathering fresh nettles, counting the cherry blossom trees on the way to school, watching the geese migrate north and today, we ate our breakfast barefoot in the sun! :) Never the less, I desperately envy your limitless freezer capacity and the frosting covered landscape… its such a great reminder of the extremes of being and I just adore the way snow sparkles… so, I must admit, I do often envy those of you who live in snow!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      February 15, 2010 10:06 pm

      Ami, I remember this jasmine vine on the south-facing wall of the hardware store in Arcata that bloomed all winter long! And the camellias and fruit trees and potato vine that was in full flowering swing in February. I would never, ever get sick of that. And even for the cold summers, Dan and I still reminisce over the bursting, colorful Arcata farmers market. Enjoy your Pacific spring!

  4. February 15, 2010 5:05 pm

    Yes, those skunks and their joyrides… makes a bike sure get smelly :)
    AHh to the season of lesser clothes! Mae unzipped her sleeves from her coat today and declared it must be spring. She flung them to the floor and off went her hood and out she ran.. to come in minutes later and ask for a sweater to wear under her “vest”
    Can I just tell you each and everytime I come to visit what a wonderful writer you are? Yes. I wil answer that.. I can! Love reading Rachel.

  5. February 15, 2010 10:00 pm

    LOVE the skunks!

  6. February 16, 2010 12:14 am

    Your chicken looks as happy about the snow as the kids sound! But marshmallows do make winter better. Well, for the kiddos … not sure about the chickens. Or the skunks. =>

  7. February 16, 2010 6:05 pm

    “It’s too bulky and funky!” Can I tell that to my rear end? Do you think it would listen? And then do something about it?

    I know how you feel. Snowbound with children is dicey at best. I find myself looking out the window, begging for spring.

  8. February 16, 2010 11:33 pm

    I feel spring coming! The light changing, the sprinkling of warm days here and there. It’s coming! I like the differentness of spring too!

  9. Ellen permalink
    February 17, 2010 4:40 pm

    In the SF bay area, spring is gloriously here…warm sun glinting on sourgrass and flowering plums. But would anyone appreciate it if we didn’t have the cold gray rainy days and the bare stark branches of winter trees?

  10. February 22, 2010 12:44 am

    You are such a trooper and I such a wussie. I don’t go outside here in Portland if it’s under 50 degrees. Boy, times have changed since living in SW Colorado. I’ve become so citified (sissyfied). Portland winters are quite different though and I’ve learned that’s what indoor parks are for!!

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