The Darkness of Winter

I’m not a big fan of winter in this particular part of the country.

 I don’t like feeling cold down to my bones.  I don’t like the treacherous traffic, ruining the hemlines of my dress pants and jeans, having to choose between wearing one pair of ugly waterproof boots all day or carrying a second pair of shoes to work. 

I don’t like that it’s harder to exercise in the winter.  Not only is it less appealing to crawl out of the warm bed at 5am in the morning (super dark AND cold), but add to that the necessity of bundling up in extra clothes, wearing snow boots, scraping the car and driving to the gym on frozen or slushy roads.  Also in the winter I get less “natural” exercise like playing outside and walking places.  I still do all of these things, it’s just more of a pain so I do less of them.

I don’t play any winter sports.  I don’t even ice-fish – me in the land of 10,000 frozen lakes!  I’d like snowmobiling, but I don’t have a snowmobile or anywhere nearby to ride one.  I’ve tried ice-skating a couple of times, but I can’t seem to grasp the art of gliding over the ruts in the ice left by other skaters.  Roller-blading and roller skating I got; ice-skating I do not.  I’ll usually go sledding or snow tubing once or twice each year, and I was in winter running club in high school, but I think I may have joined because I had a crush on one of the other members…

No one in my family ever did downhill skiing or snowboarding when I was growing up, and frankly I’m not too excited to learn how to do either of those now.  First it looks…umm…cold.  And second, every time I think about getting up on skis, I imagine me bundled up like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story, standing at the top of the bunny hill, slowly starting downward, and just as things seem like they might go alright, I trip and bury myself in a snow hill with only my crossed skis left visible in the air above me. 

Nothing like the power of positive thought, eh?

One more thing.  The biggest thing: My evenings are shorter. 

They’re not really, they just feel shorter.  I usually leave work sometime between 4pm and 6pm – that’s the same regardless of the time of year.  The difference is a matter of sunlight.  In the summer I can work until 6pm and know that I have a good two hours left of daylight in which to do “things and stuff” – whatever it is that needs doing.  In the winter I start getting antsy around 3:30pm because I know it’s going to be pitch black by 4:15pm. 

That’s a problem because when it’s dark, it’s very cold.  That means I have to drive home in the Cold Dark, and I have to go grocery shopping in the Cold Dark, I have to go out with friends and family in the Cold Dark.    The Cold Dark is lonely.  Sound is muffled; lights are sharp and hurt to look at.  My cold face, fingers and legs become numb and feel stiff.  All I want to do is huddle under a blanket in front of a fire and let every available light bulb blaze.  I’m not inspired to run errands or leave my house for entertainment.  I feel like I should be hibernating until the sun resumes normal working hours. 

Occasionally I do find myself admiring the Cold Dark.  Not so much that I appreciate its presence for a full three months, but if I could have it for a week every year…I think I’d like that.

Take last night.  I left work yesterday at 6:15pm, later than most of my coworkers.  I work in a suburb, in quiet, sparsely-inhabited industrial park located on a lake near a golf course.  There is never a lot of traffic, and the trees and open lake make the world seem very big and wild at night. 

I bundled up in my many layers, and as I walked outside I noticed that a fresh layer of snow had carpeted the concrete walkways and asphalt parking lot.  I had left by a side door, and only a few sets of foot prints tracked from where I was standing.  They walked side-by-side, only diverging and disappearing into other footprint traffic at the end of the walkway as they split off to find their respective vehicles. 

Everything was so…still.  I took a deep breath and the air was cold in my nose and throat.  Outside smelled new, fresh, clean.  The parking lot security lights cut through the blackness, creating cones of light if observed individually, and together casting a dome of brilliance which gently faded at the edge of the lake shore.  The buildings across campus seemed to be Hollywood cutouts, backlit by unseen street lights, empty and flat.  If I walked behind them I wouldn’t have been surprised to see unpainted wood held upright by enormous 2×4 beams.

My warm breath fogged up my glasses, obscuring the silent world and shaking me out of my reverie.  The magic of the moment was further dispelled when I reached my car and had to use two hands to force the frozen door open.  The cold leather of my car seat quickly penetrated my coat and dress pants, and on the curved exit of the parking lot I lost traction under my tires, swerving gently sideways before regaining control of the car.

But for a short time, the Cold Dark had been regal, majestic and bigger than slushy roads, the wet gloves and my ennui.  For a moment it was beautiful, and I was happy to be in it.

The Darkness of Winter