Monday, February 05, 2007

A Toast to Winter

It's finally cold enough to officially dub this season winter!!!

Which means that going outside requires the 10-minute layering process to guard against the biting winds and skin-numbing cold air. It means that you can see your breath in the middle of the day. It means that the smell of snow rides on the wintry breezes - that is, if it's warm enough to snow.

I can't say that New England knows winter quite as well as Minnesota does. I have to give the winter season to Minnesotans - they really know how to live this season to its fullest. And as Minnesota is rather famous for its wintry weather (making it hard for some people - particularly coastal natives - to believe that Minnesota enjoys a warm and balmy summer as well), I suppose it's suiting that they do it so well. But I will concede that New England does its best to create the cold, icy world of winter in all of winter's glory.

For me, winter is a magical world, bringing to mind fantastic words and phrases. Numbing cold - frost - frozen - chilly - billowing snow. With these come equally fantastic images of frosted windowpanes, warm fireplaces, steaming cocoa, snowmen in the front yard, and, of course, the wonderful "snow-baby effect."

Winter creates the world of frozen ponds, rivers, and gutter puddles. Its winds whip past us as we walk, pinching our cheeks and numbing our legs through our jeans. Scarves, hats, winter coats, mittens, ear muffs, face masks, boots, thick wool socks are the costumes of the season - which people use in different combinations to create a bubble of insulation to allow them safe passage from place to place through Jack Frost's Wintry Wonderland.

The joy of winter rests in those breath vapors dancing in front of you as you walk. Its in the thawing-out feeling that comes when you get inside from the cold - your cheeks once again easily movable as the numbness leaves them. Its ice skaters laughing on the Frog Pond in the Common. Its in the "blinking red" of the old John Hancock tower signaling "snow ahead." Its hot chocolate after a good frolic in the snow. Its cuddling up under blankets while watching the cold winds dance through the night, the frost slowly appear on the windowpane, the snow billow past creating a silent shining landscape of white. Its bright colored mittens, hand-knit scarves and hats, big lumpy coats hiding their occupants inside. And its the beginning of that Christmas song:
Frosted windowpanes,
Candles gleaming inside,
Painted candy canes on the tree.
Santa's on his way,
He's filled his sleigh with things -
Things for you and for me.

It's that time of year
When the world falls in love,
Every song you hear seems to say,
'Merry Christmas,
May your New Year dreams come true!'

Winter brings a sense of childhood back to everyone - even as we feel we've forgotten as we drive through the hazardous icy roads on our way home from work. We can't help but remember the days of our youth, when we raced our friends down the sledding hills, soaked our play-clothes completely from rolling in the snow, built the best snowman on the block, and kicked up the snow in front of us as we patrolled the white slopes of our own winter wonderlands. Memories of warm soup and hot cocoa after a neighborhood snowball fight fill our heads. The inevitable need to go to the bathroom just when Mom finished the 15-minute ordeal of wrapping us up to play on the cold, snowy Saturday afternoon. Winter meant Christmas - Santa - presents! It meant snow-days from school, or "dangerously cold weather days" by declaration of the Governor if you lived in Minnesota (and I imagine in the surrounding states as well). Winter creates that youthful spirit in our adult lives as we hear the new generation laughing and running and tumbling in wintry bliss.

There's something very satisfying in the feeling of being utterly chilled to the bone, then stepping into a warm, cozy living room with a cup of cocoa and a pair of fuzzy slippers. And something so satisfying about that cold bubble that you in your warm insulated bubble you create for yourself each day. So, as you shiver slightly underneath you numerous layers, looking out across the frozen river to the snowy roofs on opposite bank, I invite you to raise your thermos of steamy cocoa, full of bobbing mini marshmallows, and join me in toasting this cold, icy season. Here's to winter!!!

Yeah, I just burned my tongue, too. That's half the fun!

[This post was inspired in part by this wonderful season, but also in part from a request by a reader for a toast to winter after reading my toast to fall. Stay tuned as the seasons change yet again and perhaps inspiration will strike again to produce a toast to the spring!]

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