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Over Easy: Love Winter and It Will Love You Back

  • (Valley News - Shawn Braley) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



For the Valley News
Friday, January 19, 2018

It occurred to me recently, as I was here and not in Florida, and the temperature was diving off the high board into depths of minus-20 or more, that I like winter. There, I’ve said it.

There is nothing wrong with a day in June. It is a golden retriever, happy to be petted by anyone who happens by. A fine winter day, on the other hand, has a cold indifference to praise or complaints.

After years of whining about winter like almost everyone else — in New England it’s bonding — I came to realize that I enjoy the season even though I’m not big on conventional winter sports like skating or skiing. I’m not daring enough to try something truly extreme, like ski jumping or nude ice fishing.

Winter acceptance might be easier because the cold doesn’t bother me. Don’t hate me because my hands are warm. They almost always are. On certain cold nights, my wife, Dede, puts her chilled feet against my legs in bed, sometimes making me cry out “Yikes!” in surprise. I let her keep them there, however, and her feet slowly warm as she drifts off to sleep and the marriage bond grows stronger. You don’t have romance like that in the tropics.

Yet more than genetic good fortune — a winter bod — makes the difference this time of the year. To have a truly good winter you have to earn it, which appeals to people of good character, and masochists.

Those who leave the comforts of hearth and home will find rewards, as long as their feet are dry. Which brings to mind the first rule of thriving in winter: Wear serious socks and shoes, even if the fashion police threaten action. Shoes must be waterproof, socks made of wool or something as good. In high winter, you are dressing for an expedition, not shuffling off in flip-flops to watch a Key West sunset. If the car won’t start, you should be ready to drive a team of huskies to work.

The second rule is layers. To be properly dressed for the Upper Valley climate is to risk resembling the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Layers should include helpings of wool, silk, flannel, fleece and miracle fabrics. Down with cotton; up with down.

And no half-measures: When you leave home, even to get the morning paper, you should always have on your person at least two flares, a fire starter kit, a Red Cross pamphlet about warning signs of hypothermia, a novel by Dickens or the equivalent (in case of delays), plus two forms of identification in case you go missing. GPS isn’t sufficiently reliable for Upper Valley winter; you’re going to need a full set of maps. Don’t forget food supplies such as energy bars or, if you have a big appetite, a canned ham.

Hats are vital, and generally, the uglier the better. Look for brands like Mad Bomber, Angry Eccentric or I Can’t Believe There’s an Eagle’s Nest on My Head. Winter is a fashion equalizer; no one looks all that great for five or six months, so conspicuous consumers (often Dartmouth students) rely on Canada Goose patches to signal they can afford $800 coats. Silly geese.

To prove your mettle and improve your mood, get out in the winter sunshine. A daily walk of 30 minutes to an hour is ideal. (If you are not so young anymore, ask your footwear professional if YakTrax or other traction enhancement devices are right for you.) You may want to stay indoors for blizzards, but only when they are declared by the National Weather Service. The hysterics on area TV stations don’t count.

About the rewards: Winter offers brisk, clean air that puts the humidity of July to shame. Breathe it in and you feel better just for having made its acquaintance. When the snow pack reflects the sun toward you, you feel like a human solar panel, or perhaps a pilgrim receiving a blessing.

Bad weather is an open-ended note from your mother. Didn’t want to go to that dinner party, committee meeting, lecture on pre-Ottoman Empire Bulgarian folk dance? The roads are bad, you’re excused.

Winter offers chores that give life meaning; no yawning in a hammock in February. When I’m uncertain and anxious about what comes next, even to the point of existential dread, I head to the woodpile. Absolutely nothing about firewood and wood stoves seems pointless.

Of course, you could move south and avoid true winter. But before you know it, you’d lose the hardiness earned in the Upper Valley. A shiver might wiggle down your spine when it’s 50 degrees one evening and all self-respect would be lost. Are 70- and 80-degree days worth that? Don’t answer until you have deployed flannel-lined jeans and a long-sleeved undershirt that knows what it is doing. They will change your way of thinking.

I’m not saying that winter doesn’t have its challenges, but hating it is optional. The glass is still half full; make peace with the ice in it.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.