“Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail. If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see.”
–Robert Service. The Cremation of Sam Magee
I live in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York. I don’t live in the Yukon. But lately, I feel like the Yukon would be a bit more comfortable. Am I living in Lapland or Spitzbergen or Thule…in lovely Greenland?
Don’t get me wrong. Don’t misunderstand. Don’t think I’ve lost my spirit and my love for wintertime. I love snow. I used to be able to skate backwards on the Brick Pond when I was young. Remember the Brick Pond blog post? Of course you do. I have fond memories of the winters of my life. My childhood girlfriend and I built a fantastic snowman in my front yard on Front Street after an unusual April snowstorm. It was probably 1963. In four days it was a pile of melted snow…like Frosty. A birch tree grows in that place where the snowman stood and wasted away that April.
My brothers and I would play ‘Fox & Geese’ in our backyard on dark December evenings. We’d make paths in the 18″ of snow, making figure 8’s and sharp turns…and then the game began. It was a form of Tag, except you were expected to not just ‘tag’ someone…you would push them into the snow.
It was unbelievable fun.
And, we’d take our snowsuits off in the backroom and our faces were red and our clothes steamed from melting snow and sweat and our mother made hot chocolate and maybe popcorn while we changed clothes…into our flannel pajamas. No hot chocolate or popcorn has tasted as good as it did on those winter nights in the 1950’s.
But, time moves on and bodies get older and the joy of moving snow has become a challenge that I can hardly face these days. See the path to the garage? I’ve shoveled such a path for sixteen years…at least (this is a rough guess) 30 times a year. That makes an estimated 480 times I’ve pushed the shovel and threw the snow from the front porch to the garage door. (I’d feel comfortable rounding that number up to 600). Then came the carrying of the garbage and recycling bags. Then I would walk into the garage where the bins are and find myself holding onto something to prevent my slipping on the frozen surface of the floor (from the melting of the snow from the car).
My back hurts in places I didn’t know existed. I’ve learned all about the L3 and L4 that I will need surgery to correct my stenosis. I think I may have had enough of the North Country winters.
I always believed that people needed four distinct seasons to keep one’s brain alive and enjoy the difference in weather. In my hometown of Owego, NY, we had four seasons. None of them went on too long…some of them like autumn were too short. But, here in the Adirondacks there are five seasons. Sounds great, right? Well it comes down to this:
- A Long Winter
- A Short Summer
- A Brief Autumn
I’ve checked my indoor/outdoor thermometer on a March night and saw that it was -38 F. This was early in our years in the North Country.
“Mariam, let’s step outside and take a breath. The inside of your nares will feel like pin pricks.”
“No,” she said.
“But it’s bracing, invigorating and stimulating,” I said. “You never experienced this in Queens.” She stared at me for a moment probably wondering if I truly understood the word “NO”. She went back to the warm sofa and picked up her book.
Clearly she didn’t fully understand the vibrant and visceral pleasures of walking our loop road when it’s forty below zero. Sometimes I find her hard to understand. What was her problem with a bit of a chill in the air? It took me a year or two to fully get her point.
[We never got around to setting this clock back an hour. It’s really 11:20 on December 15 as I finish this blog. It’s expected to go down to -14 F in a few hours…but I can’t stay up that long. So take my word for it.]
I own more fleece than is legal. I own enough wool to keep all the Irish Aran Island knitters in their due pint of Guinness. I have seven pairs of gloves, none of which keeps my fingers from numbness.
So, without regret, we are relocating to New York City for about six months. This is not because of my whining, mind you. It’s a professional move on the part of my wife, Mariam.
This is a fantastic country here in the Adirondacks, but it’s a young person’s world.
The skiing is great on Whiteface this year, so I read. But when your age is on the wrong end of the 60’s, I’d rather let someone else move the snow.
The weather in the City can be bitter in the winter when the wind blows off the Hudson, but I won’t have to shovel a path to put my garbage out or to get the newspaper. All I have to worry about is the slush in the gutters that will be my challenge as I stroll up Broadway to Zabars for some Irish Cheddar and some salmon fillets.
And, if its way too awful to get out…I can always order take-out from a Chinese restaurant.
[Mariam and I in front of our new home in 2000. Who would have guessed?]