Winter: Comfort and Happiness

A quintessential photo of Hannah and I during a New Hampshire snow storm. (Building a snow fort, of course.)

I love winter.  I am sure I am in the minority on this, but let me explain.

I don’t particularly like the cold and I sure don’t enjoy cold weekday mornings – waking up to my cell phone alarm, leaving all my babies snuggly in bed (Mesa with her nose tucked under her tail, Lupe entirely burrowed under the down comforter, and Andrew rolled in the blankets and sleeping soundly, with his eye mask), and walking across the cold saltillo tiles to start the day. It sucks. I admit, I turn on a space heater most mornings, and sit inches in front of it while I blow dry my hair and all that. Mesa, despite the chill, gets out of bed shortly after I do and patiently studies my routine, from shower to brewing coffee to penciling my eyebrows. It is certainly a testament to her character and I reward her with her own space heater as she watches me from the couch. Little Lupe barley pokes a nose out from underneath the blankets most mornings! I blast the heat in my car all the way to work. And sometimes I sit for an hour in my winter coat in my office. (One of the terrible environmental realities of being an archivist – aside from never seeing the sun during the day – is having to deal with lower than average office temperatures. You know, for the documents.)

But I do love winter.  And after living in New Hampshire, northern and “downeast” Maine, and central Illinois, I think I’m good at it. I’ve realized part of it is having the right equipment. You need a good winter jacket, hat, gloves and slippers. You need insulation for your windows and doors. You need a fireplace or wood stove. You need a lot of bodies in the bed at night. And you probably need a hot toddy or two 🙂

I have to say, Maine does winter the best, in my opinion. Mainers have a good attitude about it. When it snows 2 feet overnight, (real) Mainer’s don’t whine or suffer for hours digging their cars out to get to the office – they take a SNOWMOBILE – and probably also take the day off to joyride AND help their snowed-in neighbors.  If you don’t have a snowmobile and your economical 10 year old sedan does get stuck in a snow drift – you don’t pout and wring your freezing hands about what you’re going to do… because multiple strapping men and women with pick-ups and/or shovels and/or snowmobiles will extract your vehicle with uncommon strength and delight!  Everyone will hoot and clap when your car slides out onto the road! It’s like a party, sometimes there’s even beer! Seriously, when it snows in Maine, there are groups of roving good Samaritans with tools who want to dig you out of whatever situation you got yourself into. They will take beer in thanks. I’ve seen it.

Living in Maine made me seriously question whether I wanted to change my career to snow plow woman. Town snow plow drivers are heroes, like city firemen, except jollier and more mysterious. They work alone throughout the winter nights and early mornings. Unlike many people, they smile at forecasts of blizzards and Nor’easters.  To these drivers, snow means money and adventure and an endless supply of free coffee and radio tunes.

What’s better than waking in the night to hear the scraping of snow plows? Just that one sound – long and constant. It’s always been a reassuring sound for me.

And just to be clear, I’m not talking about the frightening massive highway plows you see in Massachusetts or New York, speeding the wrong way on a 4 lane interstate, slurping and sludging columns of dirty snow into roadside ditches. Those things are mean. No, the friendly plows in Maine are made for narrow, downtown streets and hilly country roads. They have gentle blinky lights and large unpretentious rust spots and they get the job done without scaring the crap out of anyone.

Now that I am writing this, I realize one of the reasons I like winter is because it seemed – at least in Maine – often like a big party. The best kind of party, where people unite around an obstacle, or cause, and celebrate their great efforts! Of course, this is very different from the leisurely summer beach party, full of… LEISURE – yuck! The winter party is about being happy you toiled and survived and it’s about values like fortitude, unity, and generosity, and it’s about being grateful for basics, like heat, family and beer (or coffee brandy, if we’re in rural Maine, ha!).

This will be Andrew and I’s first winter in New Mexico and I really don’t know what to expect.  People have told me there are not many snow plows. It seems more spiritual and religious here. It’s seems more like a quiet season, than an adventurous one. Paper lanterns, also called luminarias or farolitos, have started to appear, lining walkways and storefronts. These are simply paper bags filled with sand and a candle placed in the middle. Below is a photograph from the Archives, circa 1965.

Courtesy New Mexico State Archives. Image 64130. Photographed by Harry Caplin.

However, it’s not quite winter yet, and as I write this I’ve just pulled my first pecan pie from the oven – for Thanksgiving! My sister, Hannah, is coming and bringing her two pups, Grommit and Bennie. I cannot wait. I foresee Mesa needing to wear a muzzle for at least the first day, because she is a bit territorial by nature. But I really hope she mellows out and enjoys some play time with her cousins, eventually. I was telling a friend earlier that our little holiday is not going to be burdened with drunk uncles or emotional baggage between family members (not that that is usually the case at our family gatherings, but you know the trope) – however, it will have to cope with two slightly unstable rescue dogs! I think we can handle it. I’ll let you know!


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