Archive for Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Indoor perspective best for embracing the cold

November 18, 2009

It’s been so nice for so long, I guess we can be excused for being surprised when Old Man Winter finally blows his frigid breath down the backs of our necks.

As I write this it’s Monday morning and the mercury has dropped into the 30s. The pavement glistens with rain, and north winds bluster. The meteorologist on the cable channel ever hints at the possibility of snow. That is, apparently, not merely a possibility but an accomplished fact farther to the west.

Driving around in the rain on Sunday, it struck me how the change of the seasons always seems more real with the rain. It’s one thing to know, intellectually, that the season changes from summer to fall with the passage of the autumnal equinox on Sept. 22. But you don’t really realize it until it rains and the wind starts blowing the leaves around.

Similarly, the coming of winter occurs not just on Dec. 22, at the winter solstice, when the sun is farthest in the south, but when it snows. At least, that’s how I think of it.

I don’t know if I’m ready for winter, although of course that’s completely immaterial. Still, it seems like it would be nice to have a little more fall, with days that are pleasantly warm and nights that are refreshingly crisp, before surrendering to the throes of winter.

On the whole, I have great memories of winter. One of the earliest I remember was when I was maybe 4 years old, and a blizzard blanketed our town in western Kansas. My mother trussed me up like Randy, Ralphie’s little brother in “A Christmas Story,” who complained that he couldn’t put his arms down. I staggered outdoors, falling through drifts that seemed higher than my head.

Mostly my memories of snow are positive, although I recall a few experiences that didn’t seem so positive at the time.

When I was a freshman in college, a friend and I were driving back to the University of Denver after coming home to Kansas City for Thanksgiving. This was in 1960, when Interstate 70 was completed for only about the first and last 70 miles of the trip. I mention that because these days, authorities would close the road and we would have been spared the adventure that ensued.

The weather was fine when we left Kansas City, but it deteriorated as we got farther west. We drove through torrential rains about Hoxie or Hill City, just as the light was waning. As we left Colby we noticed that the wind had changed into the north, fierce blasts that sent tumbleweeds careening across the highway, flashing in our headlights before they disappeared into the darkness.

The snow started after Goodland, and once we passed Burlington, Colo., it increased in intensity until it was almost impossible to see. At one point we crept along the highway, moving maybe five miles an hour; my friend, the driver, had rolled his window down and was training a three-cell flashlight straight down at the center line in the highway while I had my face up in the window, straining for any sign of stalled or oncoming cars.

Thankfully, we had that stretch of road pretty much to ourselves. As soon as we came to a town with any sign of life, we pulled off the highway to wait for the worst of the storm to pass. I don’t think we waited there long – maybe an hour or so. We got to Denver late, around one or two in the morning. I think we both realized we’d dodged a bullet that night.

But I like winter. Actually, I like all the seasons. When winter comes I’ll embrace it, although these days I confess I do most of my embracing from indoors, in a warm, dry place.

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