We’ve now had snow this season in the Green Mountains and heard the exhalation of a winter wind against our windows — that elongated, leisurely whoosh that alerts us in the night that there will be snow in the morning. Though the calendar insists there is over a month of autumn remaining, here in Vermont winter will arrive very soon. And while winter is not my favorite of the six seasons we are granted here in the Land of the Polar Tomato — along with many wise meteorologists, I also count Mud Season (parts of March and April) and Mud-Slinging Season (the last two weeks in October) — I can’t imagine living here without it.
Sure, there are moments when we all question our sanity over the coming five months and wonder why we didn’t get out of Dodge before the water in the birdbaths had frozen as solid as granite. After all, if you’re a parent with young children, you will spend a sizable part of your day from now until March wedging a 4-year-old’s feet into snow boots that smell like bad cheese. At least once in the coming months you will be thigh deep in snow, either trying to push your own vehicle back onto the road or helping a friend or stranger with theirs. And there is every chance that there will be nights between now and the spring when our houses will be colder than meat lockers because we have lost power. (Just for the record, among the people I respect the most are those men and women who repair downed power lines in the dead of night in the middle of winter. Now that is seriously hard work.)
Moreover, when there is so much snow that we lose power in the night, there is the likelihood that we will spend the next morning shoveling a path between our front doors and civilization. I have photos of my front walk in February when it looks like a corridor surrounded by snow-white walls the height of a basketball center. We’re talking the entrance to a labyrinth.
But I can’t imagine living anywhere else in the winter. Sometimes, a snowstorm transforms our landscape into a world as dreamlike as Oz. The trees outside my bedroom window become crystalline sculptures, while the patch of earth that had once been a vegetable garden becomes an albino white beach bordered with small dunes: What had been the mounds for different varieties of squash.
This season was always the favorite of the late Lida Cloe, a neighbor of mine here in Lincoln who lived her whole life in these hills. Lida was 70 when my wife and I moved to Lincoln in our mid-20s, and she was one of the very best teachers we could have had. She told us how she savored her view of Mount Abraham the day after a snowstorm, especially when the sky was blue as a sapphire and the sun was starting its descent to the west. I know that view well and she’s right. It’s spectacular.
Likewise, there is a magic to the woods in the winter that transcends the traditional beauty we see there in the summer and fall. Once I was hiking through the woods just outside of Bristol after a snowstorm with John Elder, a writer and environmentalist and one of the smartest people I know. As he pushed a pine branch heavy-laden with snow from our path, he turned to me and observed, “About here, I always feel like I am crossing through the wardrobe into Narnia.”
Those first fires in the woodstove or the fireplace make all that splitting and stacking we did back in the autumn worth the sweat. My mother, in many ways no fan of this coldest of seasons, was seldom more content than on a Sunday afternoon in January after the sun had set, when she would curl up on the couch with a book in front of the fireplace.
Make no mistake: When it snows in early April and the crocuses are being crushed, I will be grumbling. I will have had enough. But for now? It’s time for a blizzard.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on November 9, 2008.)