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Embracing Winter (as Opposed to Bracing for Winter)

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Image by Alain Audet from Pixabay

Call me an outlier, but I have never understood why Vermont winters have such a bad reputation, or why so many Vermonters head south this time of year. Since moving to Vermont in 2001, I have become a devout winterphile. Far from dreading winter, I look forward to the days between the winter solstice and vernal equinox. Perhaps it is because I prefer being a little cold to being a little hot, a warm woolen sweater to a sleeveless tank-top, and the radiant heat of a wood stove to the annoying hum of an air conditioner. Or maybe it has something to do with the happy childhood memories it conjures up for me: skating on frozen ponds, the comforting hiss of an iron radiator, the excitement of breaking off an icicle to lick and, of course, snow!

When I recall the New England winters of my youth, what I remember most is lots and lots of snow. The more inches that fell during the night, the better, because it usually meant a day off from school. The morning after a big snowfall, my sister and I would sit glued to the radio, praying for our school district to be named on the cancellations list. Then, we’d rush to the coat closet and drag out our bib snow pants, bulky parkas, red plastic boots (the kind that slid over your shoes), hats, mittens, and scarves and venture out into the back yard. Waist-deep in powder, we’d tunnel under forsythia bushes that bent to the ground, beckoning to us. 

Winter’s white landscape offered a pristine canvas for my youthful imagination. The year the film “Doctor Zhivago” came out, I remember pretending I was crossing the frozen tundra, my eyelashes, bangs, and eyebrows painted with frost, “Lara’s Theme” wafting through my head. When daylight turned to dusk and the dinner bell rang, my sister and I would trudge sadly up the back stoop, our woolen mittens stiff as blocks, our toes so cold we could not feel them.

Some years after children outgrow their snow pants, their love of playing in the snow ends. Beset by adult responsibilities, any joy formerly derived from winter melts like a snowman on a sunny March day, and soon it becomes socially acceptable to denigrate this most maligned of seasons. I have observed that what adults of all ages seem to complain about most often is the cold (as if they expect something different during the four months between November 30 and March 31!). However; lately I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t the temperature of winter that is so bothersome to Vermonters so much as the inconvenience of it all, particularly when it comes to driving. 

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Here in Vermont, most of us rely heavily on our personal vehicles for getting around. In fact, our livelihood, if not our very lives, depends on them. We live in a predominantly rural state, where, for most of us, getting to a grocery store, a pharmacy, a hardware store, a doctor’s appointment, the hairdresser, the post office, our workplace, a coffee shop, a restaurant — you name it — involves getting into our cars. In the winter months, this takes forethought and preparation. First there is the need to “winterize” your vehicle: switch over to snow tires, get it undercoated, add dry gas to the tank, replace the antifreeze, make sure your battery can stand up to freezing temperatures, and top off the windshield washer fluid. All before you even turn the key.

And unless you keep your car, truck, or SUV in a garage, every time you go out you have to allow sufficient time to clear the driveway, warm up the engine, brush off the snow, and scrape the windshield. And before leaving the safety of home, you may want to load up with extra weight for ballast, (a five-gallon bucket of sand works nicely), a tow rope or chain, and a shovel, just in case you encounter a perilous patch of ice. Because even if you never get stuck, you never know when you’ll be called upon to help some poor out-of-stater who doesn’t know how to drive on Vermont’s back roads in winter. 

Hazardous driving conditions notwithstanding, I still hold tight to the belief that winter is something to be enjoyed, not endured; celebrated, not cursed. And not because I ski. I don’t. But I do enjoy snowshoeing. In fact, I embrace the many joys Vermont has to offer at this time of year. You won’t find them in the land of snowbirds. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Waking up to a winter wonderland.
  • Having a good excuse to stay home.
  • Delighting in a male cardinal’s bright red plumage contrasted against a backdrop of white.
  • Playing pick-up hockey outdoors, at night, under the lights.
  • Sipping hot mulled cider around a bonfire with friends.
  • Curling up with my knitting next to a cast-iron wood stove.
  • Wearing beautiful handknit accessories: hats, headbands, scarves, neckwarmers, legwarmers, mittens, etc.
  • Walking in a silent wood and looking for animal tracks.
  • Going on a horse-drawn sleigh ride.
  • Taking in the view of a snow-capped ridge after snowshoeing up a mountain trail.
  • Eating sugar on snow.
  • Catching snowflakes on my tongue.

That said, in the interest of full disclosure, there are some things about winter I do not relish, such as when an SUV with Massachusetts plates blows by me going 85 mph on I-89, spitting sand and rock salt onto my windshield, and enveloping me in a blinding white-out. Thankfully, it’s a small price to pay for living in this Green Mountain paradise all year round.

What’s your favorite thing about winter? Send your responses to dweggler@gmail.com.

Diana Weggler is a retired writer living in Northfield.