On winter


I have manhandled this year's winter with such imperturbability. I bought the first puff jacket I've been able to even try on since being traumatized by the ugly but necessary forest green, Marshmallowman-Eddie bauer parka I wore in college during Chicago's cold season. It was just heinous but as the salesman told me, "You can't focus on cute. You need to be warm." My little Louisiana self didn't know that yet, but I learned!

During my first Evanston winter, I was the enthused dork making snow angels and grooving on icicles and powdery banks lining the plowed paths. "Doesn't it look magical!" I declared to anyone in earshot. I spent Thanksgiving that year in Minnesota with one of my best friends and was charmed by the fact that we could just start walking on the frozen lake near her house. Her mom made Norwegian lefse which we slathered with butter and cinnamon-sugar before rolling and devouring.

I passed my second and third winters with a great deal less enthusiasm. For starters, Chicago winters don't end when you really think they should. No, like those in Boston, they eke themselves out well into March and often into April, and it's just entirely too much. Summers in Chicago are a thrill for a reason; not only are they beautiful but also people are just insanely excited to feel alive again that they bask endlessly in the outdoors.

During the third winter, the temperatures dropped so low that Northwestern sent shuttle buses out to ferry us to classes. However, the shuttle engines stalled in the frigid air, and so we were left to forge ahead on our own. I remember leaving my sorority house one morning in a hurry, pitiful breakfast of Fruit Roll Up in hand. It froze and shattered onto the sidewalk before I'd reached the first corner, not twenty paces from the door. Complete shock supplanted my irritation. Until it didn't. And finally spring sprung.

I loved college so much but my fourth winter found me desperately ready to leave behind such northern climes. What did I do but move to Philadelphia and then back to Chicago and then to NY and then to Boston, forging my way through varying amounts of wind and snow each and every season. My bitching about it directly correlated with the severity of each city's wintry presentation.

Philly was not bad at all, but Boston? Awful. You have never been cold like you have if you've attempted to walk across the Charles River in January. Longest walk to class ever, Evanston schleps included. I'd have cried except that my tears would've frozen to my eyeballs and cheeks and then I'd really have been up shit creek.

T and I left Boston around June 10 of 2005, and I swear to you, because I remember this with complete horror, it was 42° F that day. Good riddance, Beantown. I love you, but!

DC is much more temperate, and its four real seasons are such a treat. But in moving here, I became complacent. Forgetting what that long-ago salesman told me, I have repeatedly voted for cute over warm in terms of coat purchases, refused hats, and eschewed long underwear and clunky boots.

Willful but not a complete idiot, I this year decided to jump into winter with both feet. I bought the Patagonia puff, slim-cut because come on. A cute pair of ear muffs hugs my head, and a serious pair of Gore-tex, waterproof gloves keeps my digits toasty. I bought stylish long underwear (stylish is a stretch, but I did my best, and a base layer is awfully nice) and though I still refuse hats in general, I'm willing to put on that old pair of Timberlands that I dusted off after years in post-Boston timeout.

It's made such a difference which, of course, is no surprise to anyone.

That said, as I write this, I look with chagrin at my knuckles. On many, the skin is cracked, thin crevasses on a landscape that just can't stand up against cold and handwashing any longer. My skin is ashy and vaguely splotchy, my nose an homage to Rudolph because of wind shear and boxes of Kleenex past. My shoulders are perennially achy, both from shoveling and hunkering inward to retain any body heat I can. My toes itch, and I'm chalking this up to being constantly bound in socks because the alternative reason might be a foot fungus, and I simply can't abide by that thought.

I continue to fill my bird feeder, because the ruby red cardinals who come to eat provide such a magnificent contrast to the snowy backdrop of my yard. And I continue to enjoy cozy fires on long winter's nights. But I am so ready to feel the sun's warmth in addition to seeing its light. I'm ready to bare my shoulders and wear just a single layer. And sandals! Oh, the beautiful thought.