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The Way I See It: Winter’s Gold

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A snowy night. Photo by Bradley Long.
As a child growing up in a small New England town, I remember the burgeoning darkness and runway to the holidays with a mix of wonder, delight, and awe. 

On December afternoons, I could not wait to get home from school. Quickly, and with great purpose, I would walk from room to room in our suburban home. I would turn on the vintage, ivory-colored, electric lights in each window, taking great care to stand them upright and true. 

I’m sure that part of the joy of my daily window-lighting ritual came from knowing my Dad would pull into the driveway from a long day at work and see the house all lit up. I wanted him to feel the light’s warm welcome. 

As dimly lit days enveloped us, cookie making became a task I took very seriously. My favorite cookie cutters were hearts, trees, and stars and even those representing all the “Peanuts” comic strip characters — my most favorite being Snoopy lying on top of the dog house. I would take over the kitchen and spend hours baking and decorating sweet delights while creating a joyful mess. 

Later in the season, we of course had nor’easters and the feverish anticipation of a snow day. We would sit in front of the TV and wait for our town’s name to pop up on the list of cancellations. If we were lucky enough to get a snow day, we spent hours sledding on the small hill in our backyard. This was the start of winter in my childhood.

As a little girl, I felt like John Denver was speaking directly to me with each soulful song on his 1975 “Rocky Mountain Christmas” album. The cover art was soft and inviting, and the album’s edges became worn and rounded from so much use and love. As I carefully moved the needle of our record player onto the vinyl and heard that first melodic scratching, the lyrics to his iconic Aspenglow went straight to my heart: 

“See the sunlight through the pine

Taste the warm of winter wine

Dream of softly falling snow

Winter’s gold

Aspenglow.”

Even as a nine year old, I could sense and feel the deeper qualities of this time of year, beyond the hustle. My small, sensitive soul longed to see the solstice light in the pines and dreamed of deep forests filled with snowflakes and sparkles. I imagined all the animals having tea together around a warm fire, singing songs and reveling.

As an adult who loves living in tune with the seasons, I continue to contemplate the deep meaning of this brave time of year. In winter, Mother Earth takes her rest: The trees have dropped their leaves to conserve precious energy; foxes pounce on mice under fluffy snow; and the bears have found their winter dens by now, perhaps nestled beneath a brush pile or fallen tree. The heart rates of once-frenzied chipmunks drop from 60 to 20 beats per minute, and their body temperatures can hover as low as 42 degrees. Life slows way down.

As Katherine May writes in her book “Wintering,” “Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. 

“They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.” 

I live in a place where winter truly happens. This reality doesn’t necessarily match the curated images we see on social media: A rosy-cheeked maiden out in a snowy field wearing gorgeous woolens and cupping a steaming mug of cocoa. Living in Vermont for the past 25 years has made me wise to winter’s harsh reality. Yet, there is magic and wonder woven into this rough beauty. 

For me, winter happens in the small golden moments when I allow myself to revel in this darkest time of year: Pausing when I walk the dog outside at 10 p.m., only to gasp at a sky shot full of bright stars. Or marveling at the swirling flakes in my headlamp as I walk down our dirt road, already dark by 5 p.m.

When I feel generous, I buy big chunks of local cheese and robust red wine and cue up ancient carols to sing out loud. I gather armfuls of pine, spruce, and balsam to adorn the front porch. When the light returns and next spring comes with its kindness and benevolence, I hope to say I journeyed through another Vermont winter. I hope to say that I have “wintered well.” 

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