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Beyond the window of my Manhattan apartment, snowflakes as big as dimes are falling diagonally, raising serious questions about plans to run in the park. For many who last saw 57 on a steak sauce jar, flurries are a reminder to book reservations to fly south. Not me.
Escaping winter makes me feel older, as if ninety-degree January temperatures come prepackaged with an E-Z pass to Geriatric-ville.
I like palm trees and white jeans as much as the next person, but balmy weather can put your life on fast-forward. Escaping winter makes me feel older, as if ninety-degree January temperatures come prepackaged with an E-Z pass to Geriatric-ville, where the all-inconclusive plan includes chit-chat about orthopedists, canasta, early bird specials, incontinence products and statin drugs: Generic or brand name? Discuss.
Is the tradeoff worth it? As I pull out my Uggs and scroll through the L.L. Bean website, pondering parkas that promise to keep me toasty in cold weather, I think not. I may not be Danish, but I’m a hygge kinda gal who hopes she’ll never be too wobbly for snow. As it starts to fall, I feel like a kid.
Cold Weather Cocoa-Scented Memories
Wintry climes evoke cocoa-scented memories. I was raised in the Upper Midwest before meteorologists had, praise God, started invoking the wind-chill factor, or I might have hibernated from Halloween to Mother’s Day. We simply slipped into flannel pajamas, piled our beds with blankets, and carefully assessed the thermometer in the morning. If it was still below zero, we layered up and made sure our mom warmed the car before she drove us to school. My wardrobe leaned toward angora and hats with pompoms and my jokes involved yellow snow.
Knowing that the winters of my childhood may go the way of The Mary Tyler Moore Show only adds to their romance.
By Thanksgiving, playgrounds were intentionally flooded with water that froze into skating rinks. Any self-respecting kid spent weekend afternoons and plenty of starry nights playing Crack the Whip, or— this being a decade before Title IX — hockey, if you were a boy. When my parents threw a party, my sister and I would sneak off to play dress-up in the fur coats piled on my parents’ bed because pre-PETA, every woman in town owned one.
I went east to college, all the way to Wisconsin, where the wind blowing off Lake Mendota lashed your face as you hiked to classes. Eighteen months after graduation I got married in my hometown of Fargo, North Dakota, on December 26. Guests who arrived by plane still regale listeners with the tale of how as they debarked to the tundra, miniature icicles dangled from their eyelashes. My new husband was an elegant skier and learning that sport became obligatory. The first time he and I went up in a chair lift with our young sons, he declared it the happiest moment of his life.
Ralph Lauren Meets Hansel and Gretel
Cold weather may come with frostbite, but for me it’s a season of warm memories. So when my husband and I laid eyes on a cozy cabin in upstate New York, my heart did a flip-flop. Sun bounced off snow-frosted hemlocks that lined a split-rail fence—a scene straight out of a Ralph Lauren ad. The home’s exterior leaned toward corny—designed, perhaps, by Hansel and Gretel’s architect—but through the windows, I glimpsed a two-story stone hearth where my mind’s eye kindled a blazing fire. And in the meadow beyond we could make a snowman!
After tramps through the woods on snowshoes, we eat chili, blast old-time rock ’n’ roll, play Scrabble, and binge-watch TV dramas.
When other people I knew were starting to snap up Florida condos, I spun a vision of tartan and taxidermy. We bought the getaway, unpacked our fondue pot, and acquired snowshoes from the neighbors who decamped each October for Arizona. Winter vacations there have turned out to be as special as I’d imagined. After tramps through the woods, we eat chili, blast old-time rock ’n’ roll, play Scrabble, and binge-watch TV dramas.
I know a time may come when we may tire of winters punctuated by worries that our four-wheel-drive vehicle or the snowplow guy will fail us. The appeal may also wear thin after so many years of filling pipes with anti-freeze so they won’t ice up and burst.
Cold Weather Sharpens the Senses
Moreover, even if we don’t turn our backs on Jack Frost, there are already glaring indications that climate change is doing a number on winter. There may not yet be starving polar bears wandering south to my hometown, but the average temperature is a few degrees warmer than when I was a girl. Scientists see no indication that this trend will reverse.
North country survival requires a vigor that thickens the blood—and along with it, your pride.
My mother-in-law, raised in New York City, remembers long, snowy winters. Now, only once or twice a season do we get a few inches of flakes that cause urban wusses to load up on bottled water and booze, only to see the snow turn to grey slush a day later. Near our cabin, we’ve had several recent winters too warm for the local ski resort to make snow, causing the operation to totter on the verge of bankruptcy.
Inevitably, I imagine I will be blown in a southerly direction, one more fragile autumn leaf eager to slow life’s pace to languid, willing to trade a mug of hot chocolate for a fruity cocktail. But for now, knowing that the winters of my childhood may go the way of The Mary Tyler Moore Show only adds to their romance.
As long as we actually have real winter, I will see it is a tonic that sharpens senses that heat tamps down. North country survival requires a vigor that thickens the blood—and along with it, your pride. This is a trade-off that pays heartwarming dividends. Winter offers a challenge that represents all that is roaring and robust. While it’s still a viable season, I’m counting on the cold to keep me young.