Albert Camus claimed that he held within him an “invincible summer,” one that kept him warm during life’s inevitable winters. K.D. Lang titled an album of pleasant tunes “Invincible Summer,” and she glows goldenrod rays on the CD’s cover. And the Beatles crooned about the “long, cold, lonely winter,” and the sun that was coming to cure it.
I am also reminded of Richard the Third, Shakespeare’s doomed prince, who opened with “the winter of our discontent.” And T.S. Eliot who was right to mourn the lilacs during April. I always imagined them trampled in an icy rain. April is indeed cruel, and it’s still so far away.
Where are the rousing odes to winter? Of course, there’s Disney’s “Frozen” and Idina Menzel’s glorious “Let it Go” where she creates castles out of magic ice and claims that the cold never bothered her anyway.
The cold has ALWAYS bothered me. Anyway, I was born in Los Angeles where it neither snowed nor rained, during my entire childhood. I barely saw the dark. The sky was always a white bed sheet, god’s of course, with a tint of blue, pulled taut across the ceiling of my world. Always emitting heat.
By the time I was in Oregon’s mild winters at age 10, the rare ice storm was a marvel, and a scary one.
The first time I saw real weather, a sheet of ice covered our driveway. I skated across it, in my tennis shoes. My cheek hit hard against the frozen pavement. I still remember the icy smack, the blood filling up my mouth, and the sight of black concrete, several inches below the glistening ice. It was kind of beautiful.
A few years later there was one bout of snow on a Christmas eve. During my family’s ritual blowout, an uncle got mad at some interloper, who had presumably and drunkenly, kissed his wife. He took off alone into the snowy night. Someone went out after him and found his coat, a recent gift from said wife, abandoned along the side of the road.
During my freshman year at U of O, a rare burst of snow coated campus in several inches. The dormitory population formed a mob along the street between the dorms. Instead of throwing snowballs at one another, everyone banded together and pummeled any cars that drove by. There was a frenzy that moved quickly from jocularity to violence. I stood in silence as a cyclist pleaded for safe passage. They let him get almost to the end of the row when he was pelted with hundreds of snowballs. He toppled and slid as the throng cheered.
Then there were my birthdays in Pittsburgh, always shared with harrowing February snowstorms. During a recent assault that buried the city in a few feet, I lost several juniper trees. The snow burdened them and their branches snapped. I still miss them. They lined a path above our pond and for years whenever I glanced out, it looked like some giant fist had knocked out the “front teeth” of our garden.
My primary way of handling winter has always been to hope for, live in and plan for the future. I find myself staring out at the snow and stretching my mind toward spring, like an addict. Like a lunatic. The yearning is that strong.
According to the experts (both mystical and certified) this is not the right way. They are always espousing something called “now.”
And it’s winter right now.
During the recent polar vortex when the temperature dropped to negative nine, I found myself lurking near the tiny portico in the front door and imagining the worst. An eternal winter. A consistently plummeting thermometer. I considered that the bright color of freeze coating the road and all the houses might stay. Perhaps it would never leave us. The chill on the walls and the banister would move out over the carpet and furniture like ice kudzu.
How do you make the winter wonderful? How do you fully live inside of it, create within it, linger inside of its days? Walk bravely into its mightiest wind? How do you get all “now” about winter?
For now, I only know one way. Walk in your slippered feet to the edge of the patio during a still snow. Watch the way the flakes careen, die upon impact, becoming one with the infinite sheet. A true band of brothers, actually.
Close your eyes. Breathe. It’s like you take the cold, fresh intensity inside of you. You almost become still yourself. Brave, even.
The moment you begin to shiver go back inside. Then just appreciate the warmth. It’s that easy.