In winter, when I was a girl, nature whispered and boots creaked in the midst of a thousand shades of snow. The blinding white of new-fallen snow caught in the sunshine contrasted with the icy blue sparkle of snow captured by moonlight. Within hours, a fine layer of soot from the active chimneys of nearby Bethlehem Steel sprinkled the landscape like pepper from a mill and stained the snow a gun-metal gray.
My mother covered me and my sister with multiple layers of clothing before we were allowed outside: heavy wool sweaters, snowsuits, hand-knitted face masks, mittens and scarves, fur-lined boots – we walked like barrels that had sprouted limbs.
On special days, Dad bundled us into the red box sleigh with a handle like a buggy and pushed us around the block to visit our grandmother. As we got older, we flew down snowbanks on a sled, tobogganed at Chestnut Ridge and ice skated at Cazenovia Park. A snowstorm meant great fun, maybe a day off from school and, of course, Santa Claus and his reindeer.
As a younger adult, I lived in the relatively snow-free zones of the Northwest. I remember running outside with my camera to capture the rare sight of snow in Seattle. Several inches fell overnight. That morning, temperatures rose, rain drizzled and the landscape resembled a giant Slurpee. Streams of water trickled under melting snow and overwhelmed sewers. I took a picture of an elderly gentleman who carried a snow shovel on his shoulder and held an umbrella over his head while carefully slogging through ankle-deep snow in his rubber garden boots.
Most of the time when I wanted to experience snow in the Northwest, I drove up a mountain and enjoyed all the white, fluffy stuff one could hope for. It was strictly recreational, with none of the inconvenience or discomfort experienced by winter weather denizens. I liked that I went to the snow and the snow didn’t come to me.
Now I’m much older, almost retired and facing winter with an altered perspective. And by altered perspective, I mean I face the cold months with the hesitation and trepidation of a golden-ager.
A stormy day, icy streets and wind chill take on new meaning. Wind chill quickly dries aging skin. Icy sidewalks can result in broken bones. Blowing snow or slippery streets signify that the car remains in the garage. Decisions need to be made. Venture out into the frigid terrain or stay home tucked under down throws? Drive or walk? Shovel or pay for snow removal? Isolation can be a problem. Weather conditions in one week in January forced cancellation of three social engagements and a doctor’s appointment.
Increasingly, I think about southern climates for winter living. My parents were snowbirds and now my brother is one. Another brother is considering it after retirement. I enjoy the fun water world that is Florida and I love the dry, transcendent heat of the desert.
Yet, I can’t deny the hushed beauty and tranquility of snow falling or the joy of watching my grandchildren and their antics. My 9-year-old grandson lifts his face to the sky and sticks out his tongue to catch a snowflake or he pulls his little brother and his cousin in their wooden sled, and I am grateful for all the new memories they create in my wintry world.