Despite the promise of cold, snow, ice, sickness, and darkness, winter has always been my favorite season of the year. I like spring and fall, but they are far too ephemeral. Summer holds the promise of activity, but the heat can be oppressive in the northeast. Winter, on the other hand, while long and often drawn out in New England, holds more promise for me than all of the other seasons combined. It’s always my most productive time of year.
Winter is the time for stories. Because the daylight is shorter, the darkness brings with it an earlier need for warmth, lamplight (which is always a yellowish glow in my mind) and a chance to settle down with a good book. Historically, families would gather around the hearth and tell stories as a way to keep evil spirits at bay, for winter is also the season of hauntings. Now we practice the same ritual, but instead of gathering around the hearth we gather around the television.
At the start of every winter I read a “big” book, usually from the nineteenth century. In the past I’ve read Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Dickens, Balzac, Hawthorne, and others. It’s easy to lose oneself in the labyrinths of narrative that these novels supply. All of them are complex and contain a “cast of thousands,” to borrow a phrase from the movies. I always think of winter as a perfect time to indulge in a big book. In summer there are too many things to distract one from the reading, and I always feel guilty reading inside when I should be outside enjoying the weather.
Walking in the winter is another activity that I find especially appealing. I love the sound of the snow crackling under my feet and the feel of warm socks and boots, along with my hands in gloves and my coat pulled up close. Our breath also comes out like smoke and hovers on the air announcing our arrival. There is a silence to winter that one notices while walking that the other seasons don’t have. When it snows that silence is heavy, like a blanket over one’s head. Walking in winter and enjoying the silence can be an invigorating experience. Walking along one shuts out the rest of the world without shutting down. Winter walking is ideal if one wants to be alone with one’s thoughts.
Perhaps most of all I love the light in winter. When it’s exceptionally bright out the glare from the snow can be blinding. Everything becomes a lot sharper and edgier. On those days when the clouds cover the earth the light is gunmetal gray. These are the days that I prefer. In the distance one can spy the smoke rising from a regiment of chimneys. Walking beneath their smoke one knows that behind every door there is warmth and a coziness that defines our ideas of home. Behind every door there are also the spirits waiting to emerge. If we listen carefully we can hear them through the trees. I find it pleasant to have such company on my walks. At twilight the air takes on a bluish tint that transforms our world from the normal, everyday world of tasks, to something more magical, more in tune with being. Twilight covers the world like a veil as millions of people make their way home from wherever it was they were. Their homes are bright and warm, and this serves as a sort of antidote for the falling darkness and the unknown that comes with winter evenings.
The commercialism of the holidays snuffs out the magic that the first days of winter provide. Yet, soon after that magic, that promise of a good tale, returns. When the holidays are just a memory we slow down and settle in for the long season. It’s the time for hearty foods that bring comfort and warm us up. It’s the time for spirits and conversation. It’s the time for warm blankets and cold noses.
Outside the door the wolves are howling and the spirits are wandering through the air. Open the book, turn the page, and wrap yourself up in the tale beneath the warm glow of the reading lamp.