Winter Green

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It’s raining today, and the leaves are past their peak. A coastal storm is moving up just to the east pushing the tides long onto the land while winds often gust to thirty miles an hour. Geese keep calling as they land in the field, and a combine crawled down the road later in the season than normal. Winter is coming, and once again it took me by surprise. It’s not that I’m not paying attention or am distracted; it’s that I simply am not crazy about cold weather, even here in Virginia, and I must block it out until it literally slaps me in the face, bitter at my bold, unheeded rejection.

Still, I hibernate more on days like this, and it becomes kind of a forced workday. I welcome any weather that ties me to my desk and reminds me how much I can get done when I can’t get anything else done. I have two manuscripts completed and looking for a home and a pile of unorganized, unedited, unstructured, and unbelievably tiresome papers on the desk (and the shelf and the floor and in my bag) that is well on its way to being the third manuscript that will hope for a home in the coming year.

I just heard a branch fall, which must have been a huge branch since the woods are deep and I’m inside a log home which generally suppresses the sounds of most falling objects. It’s hard to concentrate when something falls.

I don’t remember noticing or caring about the cold when I was a kid. Long Island winters could be brutal, and I certainly do recall enough snow to make forts and benches and have plowed piles on the side of the road to surpass the height of the tallest neighbor. Somewhere is a picture of me and my friend Charlie in a storm–we were about eight years old, and we’re bundled up, faces included, and the entire frame is white with snow. Blizzards were an expected occurrence in the sixties, and still we wrapped ourselves in winterwear and walked around our houses, thigh deep in snowdrifts, sitting in snow, falling into it, throwing it, eating it, laughing and playing in it until the late-afternoon sun gave the glisten a blue hue, something mystical and deep, like we were in Canada or Siberia, and we stayed out there until we simply couldn’t stand it anymore, then went inside to bathe, put on warm pajamas, have some hot chocolate, and feel the tight, red, chill of winter on our skin well into the evening. And I don’t ever remember caring about the cold.

Now, well, now I walk out into temperatures in the forties with a windchill of thirty-something and I’m ready to crawl back into bed under four or five blankets. For a long time I thought it might be age; I’ve long noticed how old people pack their belongings into car trunks and drive south by October. Or maybe I’ve just so adjusted to flip flops and shorts, sea water lapping at my calves all summer, the hot sun on my shoulders and face, that I simply can’t get acclimated to the cold any longer. Perhaps it is this cold along the Chesapeake; a damp, chill-to-the-bone, wet cold that pierces my nervous system like acupuncture. At least where I lived in western New York and central Massachusetts, the dry winters allow sweaters to suffice and the cold air wakes you up more than eats away the top two layers of skin. 

All that is partially true. But there’s something else.

Charlie’s not here to build a fort. My brother’s not here for a snowball fight. My dad’s not inside, warm, watching football, waiting for us to come inside. My son grew up here in Virginia, and while we have fun memories of the few days of winter we experienced each year, except for brief visits up north, he never experienced not seeing grass for six straight months, never putting on the skates and gliding across the river when the ice is thick, falling on his butt and feeling the wet through a half-dozen layers.

No. Winter is a northern memory; a childhood experience. Maybe If I were walking the cold streets of New York I’d appreciate it more; looking in store windows, turning my collar to the beautiful cold that can be Fifth Avenue in December. Or maybe a football game should be where I go when it is cold; like we did when the Bills were home, and we’d ride the bus up from college and huddle against the winds off of Lake Erie ripping into Rich Stadium.

No. The Bay is for summer; for osprey and oystermen heading across the reach in the early morning; for balmy breezes and salty air.

Yet when a light snow falls and the house looks more like a postcard from Norman Rockwell than the Unabomber’s cabin, and the cardinals quick from holly to pine, I settle into the season a bit more, sit and watch football, warm, and wait for Michael to come home.

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