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The Weather? Yes, It’s Frightful

It can’t be Seasonal Affective Disorder I told myself cheerily. See—the sun is shining. If the sun is shining it can’t be SAD.

And maybe it isn’t. But it’s something.

The past month has been tough. And yet, nothing is really wrong. Not when you think about genuine misery—Gaza comes to mind, or the sunken ferry in Indonesia or people without enough food or Iraqi and Afghanistan citizens. I could go on. And on. Misery aplenty.

But pain is both relative and absolute, a friend from seminary used to say. I thought it was a brilliant insight, allowing for the “soft” pain of personal woes to be felt acutely while also recognizing that things could be infinitely worse. That misery has a long shelf life.

And what has made this past month a winter of discontent? As far as I can tell, it’s simply because it’s winter.

I have a friend who says that she hates it when people babble on about the beautiful fall colors because she knows that sooner or later those bright leaves will give way to the desiccation of November and eventually to the short days, gray slush and bone-chilling cold of winter. I concur. And this winter has been a special trial.

During the ice storm we lost power for five days. At first, I thought hey, this could be fun. We didn’t have any heat, but our stovetop worked. So I cooked, we built a fire, made a makeshift bed and lit every candle we could find.

The next morning I woke up feeling like Laura Ingalls Wilder when she lived in Minnesota. That is, I felt like Laura Ingalls Wilder until I remembered I wouldn’t be able to turn the coffee pot on. So we got in the car, blasted the heat and drove to Friendly’s. Which had no power.

The second night my daughter opted to sleep at my sister’s house. But my husband and I stayed home, boiling big pots of water on the stove, wrestling covers, stoking the fire and going through Internet withdrawal. The thrill was gone.

By the third night I was cooking dinner when my husband said that he wondered if we were generating too much carbon monoxide with all the candles, the fireplace and the gas stove on all the time. He said he was starting to feel woozy. Was I? At that point I was well into my second industrial-size glass of wine so I wasn’t sure. Check the carbon monoxide detector, I said. But the carbon monoxide detector was plugged into an electrical socket. Huh.

So we headed over to my sister’s house for the next two nights. And when the power came back on again, I began the arduous task of going through the freezer and the refrigerator, cleaning up wax spills, tracked-in dirt and the general detritus of cooking by candlelight creates. And then, lickety-split, more snow. And more snow.

Winter. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

Except that this year I did something I’ve been vowing to do for years: I picked up two pairs of cross-country skis at a garage sale. They were inexpensive enough that I knew I wouldn’t feel guilty if I didn’t use them, because I was fairly sure I wasn’t going to. But that’s when I found out that my husband likes cross-country skiing and used to do it all the time. That put an end to my plan of using him as an excuse for why I wasn’t using my skis.

So on one of those windy, frigid Saturdays he drove me to the local golf course for my first lesson. And there I stood, balanced on two narrow long strips, unable to attach my boots. The wind blew and blew and I tried over and over to attach my boots. And when I finally did push off I nearly landed on my face. Fortunately I was considerate enough to mutter my expletives in a low voice so the tobogganing children wouldn’t hear me.

Why do people do this? I kept thinking.

Eventually, though, I started channeling my Scandinavian ancestors. Here I was, skiing over to the neighbor’s house three miles away. Once there I would sit down to a nice plate of herring and icy-cold Aquavit. We’d talk about Kierkegaard and Strindberg and Dag Hammarskjöld. And then I’d ski the three miles back home again after sunset when it had gotten even colder.

Thinking that way made it all go a little better. After all, I didn’t have to ski three miles each way but just around the golf course for a little bit. And I wouldn’t have to eat herring or drink Aquavit; instead I could go home and make buttered popcorn. Nor would I have to talk about melancholy Danes or what a great role model Dag Hammarskjöld was. I could just go home and watch the Monk marathon.

And before I knew it, I was actually liking skiing. Which is a good thing since I have a feeling I’ll be doing quite a bit more of it.

However, say what you want about how doing a winter sport makes winter fun, I know I’d have much more fun skiing if I could do it on the grass in eighty-degree weather wearing flip-flops, a tank top and shorts.

—Jo Page

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