It starts as just another Tuesday morning, dawn softening the sky as I contemplate leaving the warmth of my bed. I get up, thinking of the day to come, already planning breakfast.
And then I pull the shades.
Outside is a world of white. The snow piled on the roof below my window mounds to the level of my waist. Well that’s high, I think. The hillside south of town is plastered, and thick layers of snow – like extra frosting on a gingerbread house – coat rooftops and trees. Deep ruts carve through the alley behind my apartment where an intrepid vehicle passed through. Snow like powdered sugar sifts through the sky.
I turn on the radio, and am surprised to hear music where there is normally Morning Edition. It’s “White Winter Hymnal” by Fleet Foxes. Soon the DJ comes on to inform us there was so much snow on the dish that it knocked the signal out. Her husband had to clear it off before it was retrieved.
Later, I find out that she had skied to the station in the dark, trudging through snow that was thigh-deep in places, headlamp lighting the way.
For now, I catch on that I should probably check things out. I pull my tall boots and coat over my pajamas and head outside.
The first thing I notice is the berm of freshly plowed snow in the middle of main street. It’s a small mountain – shoulder-tall, way too big to cross. Then, the bikes parked by the kiosk. Snow is stacked hilariously high on them, dwarfing them, teetering over them like mushrooms.
Few colors peek out from the whiteness. The only sign of my little car is a glint of black paint. Blobs of white weigh down the lids of dumpsters, cling to branches and electric lines. Little snow sculptures have grown atop the posts of a fence, bending like candy-canes under their own weight. Birds gather together in the alleys, calling wildly, gossiping about the storm. I walk through tire tracks in the middle of the street and wade through knee-high snow where they end.
Cars drive slowly through town. People shovel sidewalks and unbury vehicles, looks of amused surprise on their faces. So. Much. Snow.
Lateness is excused. Appointments are cancelled. Routines derailed. I joke that I’m going to wear my beacon when I go to dig out my car, and push enormous slabs away as I unearth it.
Some are stressed by the storm. But mostly, there’s that sense of celebration and awe that comes when Mother Nature unleashes something potent enough to interrupt our lives and turn a regular Tuesday morning into a winter adventure.
I used to dislike the pre-skiing season, when winter winnows daylight down and the walls of the box canyon obscure my beloved sun. I have to pack up my flip-flops, the bike trails disappear and recreation is limited by darkness. A simple sundress is replaced by a stack of layers, cars must be scraped off, travels planned accordingly, coats zipped up. It’s so much work.
But this year, I gave up the battle of seasonal resentment.
It got dark at 5, and rather than wishing for those summer days when I can go for a bike ride at 7, I looked forward to crawling into bed at 8:30. I pulled on sweaters and made soups. Read and organized drawers. Because I went to sleep so early, I woke with daylight, getting deep satisfaction in starting the day with the dawn. I found the rhythm, matching it instead of resisting.
Winter asks things of us. Slow down, it says. Travel less. Cook more. Take baths. Light candles, drink coffee, write letters, turn on Sunday Evening Classical and make a pot of stew for friends. Sleep. Do yoga. Sleep some more.
It is more work. But when you give in to the retracting days and retract into yourself, it becomes nourishing.
Winter is a time of recharge. A time to apply brakes to our relentless maximization of hours and focus on what’s inside. There’s no choice, really. Try to ignore it and go about business as usual, and you’re bound to slip and fall on the ice while hurrying down the street, get caught in a highway snowstorm or succumb to the seasonal blues. The season offers us a reason to embrace darkness, shut off our ubiquitous blinking lights, relish the long nights and turn down our cognitive overdrive.
The aspens go to sleep, the bears curl up in their dens, the hummingbirds retire south, the daylight diminishes and the moon illuminates the snowy mountains in a magical way.
But in order to notice it, we’ve got to imitate the rest of the natural world, and do what winter asks of us.
Photos by Katie Klingsporn