All around me people are complaining about the weather. No one I’ve heard so far has proclaimed how great winter is, how sublime a naked landscape can be. I only hear woe and wail about the cold. I get it. It’s winter. It’s cold.
We live in the stormy Midwest or, at least, it’s has a reputation for being stormy. I personally love the weather. I look forward to its changes and oddities. I think one of the best things about being in the Midwest is that we have weather.
And its not the worst weather around by a long shot. If you complain about the cold here, I think of the winter on the Dakota plains, the Michigan peninsula, the mountain ranges of the West and Alaska. There’s real cold, the kind that won’t let you go outdoors even for a minute without significant protection.
When I lived in Laramie, winter was just another reason to go outside. When the temperature dropped and the snow fell, it was time for winter sports of all kinds. An inch of snow provided an excuse to put away the fly rods and bundle up and get out the cross-country skis. Snowshoeing proved popular when precipitation in excess of four inches fell. As soon as enough snow accumulated on the flanks of the Snowy Mountains, snow machines came out of garages and backyards. When there was no snow, people went ice fishing. But for the most part, people ached for cold weather after a long, dry summer.
And it was cold, especially in the mountains. I remember my good friend Don Brown, who never listened to a weather report in his life, would tell me he knew the snow was deep enough to go snow machining. He gassed his two, very used, mobiles, drove them up on the trailer, and joined a long line of similarly minded enthusiasts to explore the out-of-the-way reaches of the mountains. The sting and bite of a swift run down into an alpine valley numbed my face and froze my hands, no matter how gloved and bundled and covered I was.
We also did a great deal of cross-country skiing, both in the flatlands of the Laramie Valley and the dales and ravines of the mountains. We carved the time out of our schedules to disappear for days at a time into the wastes. With backpacks, we skied into stretches of woods off trail that led to steep snow banks, where we tunneled our sleeping places and lined them with pine boughs. I know of few things more awe-inspiring than the early dark of winter advancing as we gathered wood for a long night’s fire.
That’s not to say there was always snow. In fact, down in the valley, little snow fell. But a long spell of artic air froze the pot lakes and reservoirs of the plain solid. Don and I augured out holes in lakes we skated across to set up our poles. Don was a real no-nonsense man who improvised many of his outdoor gadgets. He could have bought poles made just for ice fishing. But he believed that if he could make it himself, he was a fool to buy new. We set our poles over the holes we made and then kibitzed, skated, and drank coffee until we had a strike. A brace of trout was our reward for a day on the lake.
Granted, we don’t live in an area where the snow stays on the ground long enough for good winter sport fun. As a matter of fact, winters are warmer these days. The average winter in Kansas City is about three weeks shorter than it was just fifty years ago. Still, there’s a weather weariness about Kansas Citians. They are afraid of the cold, just as they are afraid of the heat. I don’t think many people around here are ever happy with the weather like I am. It’s our weather, after all. Let’s own it and understand we are not in Phoenix or Barrow. We have it good here. This winter has been good to us in temperature and precipitation. Let’s count our blessings.
To my ire, we haven’t had what I consider a real winter in a long time. The last I remember was 2011. I had gone to Berlin the first part of January to visit a friend who would ultimately die of the tumor growing in his brain at that time. Our visit was bittersweet. We loved being together again and we treasured the time. But we also knew somehow that it would be the last we saw of each other. Certainly, there was phone and E-mail, but nothing replaces being with a friend in the flesh.
I returned home at mid-January and the next day it snowed. It kept going for about two days. The temperatures, while not brutal, were cold enough to keep that snow and some that fell after on the ground for over a month. The winter was dark and deep, just the thing I needed at the time. With grief over my friend’s demise increasing, the last thing I wanted was sunny, fabulous weather.
I’ve written here many times how spring is just not my time of year. The growing light and warmer temperatures trigger moods that take me far below the surface and keep me there until well into May when my depression lightens and I feel myself coming out into the light. I’m fortunate that spring generally means generous rains and gray days, shifting conditions from cold to warm until the middle of the month. The dark does something for me. It takes the edge off my moods and softens the way I perceive the world.
So, as the days grow shorter, my mood gets lighter. I’m never better off than when night falls around 5 p.m. and doesn’t start until close to 8 a.m. Add the cold of winter to that, and snow and gray and dark days, and I’m right as rain.
It is perhaps this constants doomsaying that disappoints me the most. Weather people use large portions of the nightly news to tell us just how awful the weather is supposed to be. We hear about the possibility of crummy weather a week in advance. I am hopeful. I want their dire predictions to come true. Ultimately, it happens so infrequently that I’ve become cynical. Certainly, the meteorologists can tell me what it’s like outside—though I could just go outside to see. They can tell me what’s going to happen tonight. But any forecast beyond that is just speculation.
It’s winter. I’d come to count on the three weeks of bitter cold and snow of December and the three weeks of like weather in January and into February. But with climate change, that has escaped me. I’m left to hope the polar vortex breaks up and brings the arctic to us. I look forward to the possible storm that will stall and bring us a foot of snow. I love the cold.
I’m not willing to put my faith into people who get a charge out of scaring the more weather-weary on a regular basis. I’m beyond believing the weather is news. It’s not. It’s a fact of life.
I can’t wait to see what’s next. I hope it’s bad.