We know winter so deep in our bones that some of us don’t understand how warmer cities can shut down over an inch of snow. When that happens, some of us say, “Are you kiddin’ me?” because an inch, to us, is the work of five minutes to brush off the car, not a reason to hole up in a motel for the night. If it’s more than an inch, though, the law requires us to clear snow from our sidewalks within 24 hours. Some obey the law right away and some obey in their own sweet time, but the sweet-timers shoot themselves in the foot because even one person walking on new snow packs it down into footprint-sized pads of ice. Most of us obey the law in self-defense.
We who live in cold country don’t use a lot of words. When a blizzard is forecast and we go to the store to stock up on milk and bread and canned soup, one man will say to another, “It’s coming,” and the stranger he’s just spoken to says, “Yup,” and their words bond them in a classic conflict: Man against Nature. After the storm, we don’t get cocky about punching through to the other side. We yell across the street to the neighbor who’s out shoveling too, “Coulda been worse,” because even though we got eighteen inches of new snow, it HAS been worse. It will be worse again.
It sounds like I’m complaining, but the truth is, I wouldn’t live anywhere else. Cold country inspires. A fresh dusting of white, white snow limning a black tree branch is a poem. A dozen wild turkeys scratching for a meal in the drifts and squabbling over a tidbit is a comedy routine. One neighbor snow-blowing another’s driveway (“might as well, since I got my machine out anyway”) is kindness made flesh. Walking the dog in the silver-pink light of early morning while fat flakes whisper down is quiet magic every time it happens.
I could tell how entertaining it is to live in four different seasons. I could talk about spring when crocuses peek up through the snow and blossoms flutter along branches and maple buds burst and baby leaves whisper, “Now? Now?” I could talk about summer when fields of corn wave like an inland sea and the crash of thunderstorms reminds everybody that nature is the boss around here. I could talk about fall when the glory of red and yellow leaves in the woods is a pagan fire giving notice to winter that all of us, trees and people, are in it for the long haul. But for me, winter defines this place. Sometimes we declare to one another during a long spell of sub-zero days that we’re going to leave this ice box. Our parents said the same thing, and so did their parents, all the way back to our ancestors, many of whom came here in the nineteenth century from equally cold countries like Norway and Germany. Yeah, we talk big.
But we don’t go anywhere. Cold is our comfort. In July when it’s 90 degrees with 70 percent humidity, we post pictures of snow on Facebook to prevent ourselves from complaining about the heat, saying things like, “It’s coming,” “it” being the season we spend most of our lives enduring, enjoying, bonding over. “It” came early this year, and I hunkered down into it, glad to be home.
*Totally made-up statistic based on observation of vehicles in my neighborhood.