This Is What Zero Degrees Looks Like
I love winter. But not just any wimpy winter - actually I don't love that much at all. I love intense, sugary, ice-hard, bluebird-sky, deep Maine winter. Just as summer has its seasonal summer symphony of all things flowered and fruited, so, too, can you tell within about 3 weeks what part of winter it is. First dustings, then wet Christmas snow, then deep dry snow, then the February thaw, then icicle season, then regular winter again, then melting, then sugaring season, then mud season all April. In summer, from May, we have first the crocuses and daffodils, followed by the forget-me-nots and the little purple flowers I forget the name of, which only last 5-7 days. Soon after in June it's lupines, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, tiger lilies, and blueberries, in that order, and they only barely overlap. Queen Anne's lace goes most of July and August. Then, in late August, as far south as midcoast Maine, you see the beginnings of red leaves in the trees...fall coming. And it goes and goes and goes, a cacophonous fireworks display of mustard yellow and red Maples, orange, and brown, drifting down. Hydrangeas turn into delicate white versions of themselves, like tiny papery chinese lanterns, mysteriously not falling away, but maintaining their petals all through winter, falling only after new growth is ensured in the spring. Some days I feel like the hydrangea. I'm never giving up hope, even myself nearly totally spent, sure that the children are growing and learning and doing well, and only will I release myself and rest when I'm sure they're OK. This time of year I feel I can scarcely hang on, but late winter last year, around mid-March, I discovered one of these fully-intact hydrangea poufs, and I kept a little petal from it, to remind me of resilience and hope. If a little petal can do it, so can I.
What's it really like? At 0? -4? -19? So many little things you never thought of.
Around Thanksgiving, the first dustings, which melt. On again off again, teasing, all through romantic December. Then January, in earnest, it gets around to the business of real winter, and that is when we thrive. Skiing, sledding, wind, darkness...we enter with wild abandon. Laughter and shrieking fall soft into snow, but when we yell up out toward tall trees, echoes. There comes a time when ice coats every needle on every tree. And soon after, for just a few weeks now in January, it becomes too cold for icicles because melting never happens, even in the short hours of daylight. This is when it becomes so cold that it is so dry that the snow will not stick together, so you cannot make a snowman. The river is so frozen and cold that it attracts any remaining moisture from the already dry air and mist hovers over the ice. The afternoon sunset wipes a pastel glaze to light up the icy trees before fading at 4:15. Our mailbox freezes shut. It will soon get completely buried in snow. It's very quiet here. Just a month ago you could see through all the windy bare trees, but now the perky pines are weighted down with lob-globby mounds of snow and look like Christmas trees. Tops of tall birches sweep the ground, bent over with the weight of ice, and lean on each other. Trees are encased in ice, every branch and beautiful tip, though some has now fallen off. The ice lands FUMP out of nowhere into 2 -3 ft deep snow, too heavy to hang on, and ice men foosh off ice from roofs. News flash (to me, anyway): you cannot walk on top of deep snow without snow shoes. (Whoops!) Icicles dripped down every ledge of everything, then dripped and the ice refroze into warpy pastel ice lumps on the ground...it looks like a cave. I've even seen an icicle connect top and bottom. On Christmas Eve, I held the baby leaving church and walked up to a pine tree. Each individual needle was splayed out, encased in its own 1/3" thick crystal popsicle, and a far off light illuminated the whole tree from behind. I broke one off and handed it to her to eat. She was delighted! When I go outside for even a few seconds, my nose hairs turn into tiny icicles from breathing, and when I pinch my nose together, I feel a delicate crunch. The hatchback on the car is difficult to open and won't stay open because the air is so cold and so compressed, the pneumatic tube doesn't expand fast enough for a normal speed of opening a car trunk. I have to open it slowly, then hold it with my head to get things in and out (while holding Gracy). You may have to park and walk a long way just to get onto the sidewalk because every time someone leaves a door through the snow bank (n. a huge pile of snow...) to get to the sidewalk path, the plows come along and shove snow back into it. There's only one door through a wall of snow surrounding the library to walk through, then all the way around the building to get to the door. Tonight I did a complete circle in a parking lot because the 20-ft high piles of snow confused me. And I'm starting to feel closed in and anxious at the snow instead of enjoying it. I panicked when I woke up to our backyard swings buried...and drove around town...blocked front doors...This is nothing like I thought. Meanwhile, it's hard to have play dates when there are so many obstacles to getting out the door. We can do this we can do this we can do this....
And then we go outside...and the panic disappears. Once I give in...the anxiety melts away. I started a winter ritual, each year, where I take peppermints outside and put them in my mouth and suck air through my teeth, just to feel extra cold. I then untense my shoulders and feel cold and relax into the exhale and and say to myself, "I accept the cold." And for whatever reason, this works, very well. Sometimes, I do the same thing in a cold bath or shower. It's relaxing and empowering knowing you can, at least for a bit, have mind over matter for feeling cold. Those weeks beyond deep January I do dread, straight on from the mid-February thaw (which only happens some years) until the end of mud season, when grass appears seemingly overnight and the whole world is colored again, within 1 week...just before Mother's Day. But until then, I rely on the survival I take from deep winter. And maybe that's all it takes. That, and resilience.