Snow days.

Yesterday it snowed in Seattle. This happens rarely enough that folks panic when the first flake hits the ground. Buses run less often. The stores sell out of milk and ice melt. Driving becomes an adventure on Seattle’s famously sloping roadways. (I swear it really is possible to walk through the snow uphill both ways.)

On Saturday I’m heading up to Anchorage, Alaska for a month in the frozen north. Which today happens to be the glazed-over north: Freezing rain on top of snow turned streets into skating rinks and hilly streets into luge runs.

The thought made me cringe, which in turn made me realize I’ve become a total weenie after nine years of Lower 48 living.

When I moved from Alaska to Chicago in 2001, I actually missed winter. Ice and all.

Snowshoes, ice grippers

Recently I found something I’d written in late January 2002, during a freakishly warm spell in Chicago. It was in the 50s that day, a Saturday so mild that I walked a mile to the post office even though I was pretty sure it had closed at noon.

It had – but so what? Hugging my unmailed packages, I strolled to the neighborhood grocery store rather than drive to a supermarket. I even sweated, a little.

For the previous 17 years I’d lived in Anchorage, years during which the worlds “stroll” and “winter” were mutually exclusive. It wasn’t that I was non-ambulatory from September through April. I was just a lot more cautious about it.

I slogged through snowdrifts and tiptoed cautiously along icy sidewalks. I strapped on ice-grippers and crackled my way down the sloping, smooth-as-glass parking lot at my old job.

I buckled on snowshoes and shuffled along pristine white trails marred only by the occasional moose nugget. And the only sweat I worked up was shoveling the porch, the driveway and the roof.

But stroll? Only if we were on vacation someplace like Phoenix or Seattle, a place with pavement you could see.

And there I was, in the last week of January, walking without a jacket. The sun was warm on my face. A mild breeze ruffled my hair.

How unnatural.

Hoarfrost and frozen noses

I missed dry, crisp air that curled into vapor as you exhaled. I missed the hoarfrost created by days of sustained cold, and the way it sparkled when the sun came out from behind the clouds. I missed the Styrofoam squeak that snow makes when you’re walking on below-zero days, or nights.

I missed the way that snowdrifts shaded blue or purple as the low winter sun slipped out of sight. I missed the exhilaration of walking from a warm house into a sharply cold day, and the satisfaction of later coming back to a cozy dwelling that smells, if you’re lucky, of chili or freshly baked brownies.

Heck, I even missed the sensation of my nose hairs freezing. Forgive the bluntness, but that’s how Alaskans can tell if the temperature is zero or thereabouts: by that tickling, tingling feeling in the nostrils.

Oh, sure, I carped and whined and about thawing frozen pipes with a hairdryer, about the fear of ditch-diving on the way to work, about the rock-solid berms that snowplows left at the foot of the driveway. I grumbled as I took my turn getting up at 3 a.m. to start our cars during sustained cold spells.

Yet down in Chicago, I pined for that sort of thing.

We’re not in control

A good dose of cold weather keeps us humble. It reminds us that no matter how advanced we think we are, no matter what technological marvels keep us spinning in our self-contained, self-important little worlds, there’s not a cell phone or a snowplow in the world that can beat Mother Nature when she’s feeling frisky.

We might be able to fly faster than the speed of sound, but a good old-fashioned blizzard will close the airport.

And admit it: Isn’t it nice, sometimes, to be snowbound? As much as you hate digging out your drivewayyet again, part of you secretly longs for a snow day. If a major storm had the governor telling all non-essential personnel to stay home, you’d do the butt dance in your PJs in your living room. Then you’d check the cupboards for marshmallows to go with the hot chocolate – or to go on toasting forks, if you’re clever enough to have bought a house with a fireplace.

You’d keep up with the shoveling off and on all day, and maybe build a snowman with the kids. Mostly, though, you’d revel in how good it felt to be still once in a while. Our days have turned into stuff sacks, crammed with more data and obligations than any one person should really handle. That’s why it’s good, every now and then, to realize that we really aren’t in control.

So don’t complain if winter arrives with a bang. Don’t mourn it as the end of autumn. Look at it as the way things ought to be.

And if you don’t get much snow? Use whatever accumulation there is. One spring a co-worker and I took a short break to walk on the bike path that looped past the newspaper office. To our surprise it was snowing, covering the finally-thawed walkway with a fresh cushion of white.

Jokingly I dared my friend – a lovely, ladylike woman who always wore dresses to work – to make a snow angel. Shockingly, she did so. Just flopped down on the ground and started moving her arms and legs back and forth to make angel robes and wings.

Instigator that I am, I still didn’t quite have the nerve to join her. Now I wish I had. So if you happen to walk by a North Seattle apartment building and see a 50-something woman lying on her back, flailing her limbs and getting snow down her neck, stop for a minute and cheer her on.

Or join her. A little chilly frivolity is good for you. Especially if you know you don’t have to shovel your roof later.

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  1. I love this post! In my part of the world, we seem to alternate winter with zero snow with other winters when it snows for 3 months straight. It’s so easy to always be wishing for the other kind of winter than the one you have.
    I love that you both enjoy the memory of snowy, cold Anchorage and relish the warmer walk to the post office. This is the kind thinking that I want to cultivate as part of my savoring project (www.HowtoSavor.com).

  2. Glad someone likes winter. As a person who has lived mostly my whole life of 50+ years in cold MN, I am fed up with winter. Wish I could join the snowbirds in AZ or FL. 2 weeks ago we had temps of 50s and sun and now we are plunged right into winter with ice glazed snow. No fall. I am looking forward to 6 days in FL in December. I will hate to come back. Would even take a modest trailer for the winter if it was somewhere warm. Unfortunately I am tied here due to job and spouse who hates hot weather. Maybe some day. Sorry for the rant.

  3. I will try to keep a positive attitude about the cold and snow but I doubt it will happen. I’m the person that does yard work when its in the 90s. Hot is better, just sayin’. You can enjoy my portion of winter.
    But the moose poo made me smile!
    Have a wonderful and safe trip!

  4. Thanks for sharing. I thought I was the only one out there who enjoys winter with its crisp sunny days.

  5. I grew up in Dallas, went to college in the northeast, and never left. I can’t say I love winter, but I’m finally kinda sorta getting used to it. I do enjoy a snow day, especially now that clearing the driveway is not my problem anymore. I like being able to walk or take a hike without worrying about biting and stinging insects.

  6. meh, no
    don’t like snow

    occasional rain is good enough for my snuggling with cocoa need

  7. I love a snow day, but then I want it to end. Snow is only pretty and fun for about 48hrs. Then it needs to melt and warm back up to walk outside weather!

    • Donna Freedman

      @CandiO: Too true. I no longer manage the apartment building but I do chores and favors for the owners — like, say, shoveling snow. There was a bunch of ice that needed breaking-up and now my body is letting me know that it is a little irritated with my actions. Maybe I should have let someone else earn that $15 an hour…?

  8. I can’t truly say that I love winter, but there is nothing more thrilling than a brisk walk on a cold crisp day. Provided you have the right clothing. I live in long island, ny, so winters are either mild or feel like the ones you describe in alaska. Last year I became carless and have to rely ob public transportation and what we call the Q-footy-footy (my feet) to get to where I need to go. So I had to make peace with winter instead of gritting teeth and waiting for spring.

  9. Donna, you’ve GOT to see this video before you head out on Saturday! It hasn’t gone viral yet…but it will!

    “Help You Make It to the Flight”

    P.S. Have a good trip…

    • Donna Freedman

      @Cindy: Yep, I laughed. Although I feel sorry for the TSA workers, frankly. I mean, how would we like it if one day our supervisors told us that we’d soon be required to run our hands up near strangers’ naughty bits?

  10. Emma Sutton

    I don’t HATE winter, but I’m not a big fan either. I live in Fort St. John, B.C., along the famous Alaska Highway. Yesterday was -36C with the windchill. It’s hard to get out and enjoy yourself when a leisurely stroll comes with a frostbite warning! I used to love winters when I lived further south in a city with very defined seasons. Snow meant the malls and schools closed and everybody got to go home and play hermit. Now it means nothing. The more snow we get and the colder it is, the faster the pace of life is in our town. You eventually get used to the conditions, but the length of our winters is what’s really depressing (first snowfall is usually in early September, with snow all the way upto the end of May – which has happened for the last 3 years in a row). The worst of it all is waking up in the dark, going to work in the dark, and then leaving work at 5pm and it’s dark again. You do learn to appreciate the small things though: a car with heat (a friend of mine actually went 2 winters with a vehicle that had none), block heaters, a really good winter coat, and all the different ways you can accessorize an outfit with scarves!

  11. Snow ?!?!? Ice ?!?!?!?
    (if you remember Maynard G. Krebbs from the Dobie Gillis show shreeking [sp?] every time someone mentioned the word ‘Work.’, that’s how I feel about snow and ice, hahahaha).

    When I was 41, I moved from NYC to SF Bay area. No more snow, no more ice, no more summer sauna, it is wonderful.

    Now, I do miss the real winter of snow and ice, especially when I see highway spin-outs on the national news… just kidding!

    Yes, my body has changed, and 19 years later I don’t tolerate the real winter cold or real summer heat as well in other place of the country or world as much as I used to be able to.

    Getting used to something is just a matter of getting used to it.

  12. 🙂

    One good thing about living in the low desert: you can’t shovel heat.

    In Arizona, you can drive up the Mogollon rim to look at snow, pat it, even play in it, and then turn around and come home to a nice warm, sunny day.

    Cold here today, tho’: supposed to drop to 20 degrees tonight. Had to bring the potted plants inside and hang shoplights over the ones I can’t drag around. As if they weren’t battered enough by the Late, Great Hailstorm! But any day, I’d rather deal with frost than black ice!

  13. I HATE WINTER! Lived in Wisconsin all my life 54 years.

  14. As a kid I loved winter. skating from my back yard to the pond across the back street. Coat w/ sleeves to short and wool mittens
    shrunk up so that there was about 2 or 3 inches of beet red around
    our wrists, balls of ice hanging from end of sleeve and mittens.
    We come home when we were finished usually about 5 or 6 hours
    later. We go in, shed all we had on that was wet, put on dry clothes
    and set infront of the black, cast iron wood stove w/ our feet in
    the front of the oven getting warm. Mom would make us hot chocolate and toast cooked on top of the stove. Remember the rings
    from the stove top.
    Now 60 yrs later, I cringe watching the kids out in the snow be-
    cause it makes me feel so cold.
    I have taken up gardening, a warm weather thing.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love to watch the snow come down, beautiful.
    And I love to go out about 10pm and shovel the snow. The world is
    so quiet in my back yard then and I can dream about what I will put
    in my garden next year.
    I really enjoy your blogs. They help me think of things I had long
    forgotten. Mostly good things. Thank you

    • Donna Freedman

      Thank you, for sharing those memories. They’re lovely.
      And I know what you mean: Watching my nephews go hatless and even gloveless at five below zero makes me shudder. But I, too, love watching the snow fall (DF and I turn out the lights inside and switch on the outdoor light so we can see it best) and I don’t even mind shoveling it.


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