At least, the news reports call it hit — or clocked, pounded or pummeled. Americans share a societal dread of cold weather. Since air-conditioning made summer more bearable 60 years ago in places like Arizona, Florida, Texas and Georgia, tens of millions of Americans have migrated from the Frost Belt to the Sunbelt.
I used to share the winter dread, too. Fresh out of college, I’d landed a job in the U.S. Virgin Islands and bolted from the Midwest. On St. Thomas, the average highs dropped from 85 in July to 80 in December. While my family back home was shivering, my friends and I were cruising to a hammock-decked beach bar. I swore I’d never move back north. I’d learned there was an easier way.
Now my hubby and I live in Buffalo. It’s an improbable move that took us through a stint in Austin, Texas, then back up to the so-called Rust Belt. As a part of the recession generation, we’ve gone where there’s been opportunity. This brings me to this February snowstorm.
The verb I’d now use for getting snow isn’t being hit but being graced with it. The truth is, snow is beautiful. There’s a reason that kids love to play in it, and that people from hotter parts of the world dream of seeing it. Unlike the hurricanes and earthquakes that strike warmer regions, snow brings comparatively few deaths and little lasting damage; only a quieter world.
Among those of us who’ve stayed or moved up north, snow signals a time to slow down. We Americans keep rushed schedules, our iCals dictating our time. When snow comes (and keeps on coming), we have to admit that nature is still in charge. We can’t necessarily drive our cars. It’s a great time to pare down to only critical tasks, and maybe even to walk the neighborhood.
Winter is part of a vital rotation of the planet, causing the four seasons. Even in the endless sunshine of the Virgin Islands, I found myself enjoying the rare blustery day. It gave me reason to stay in, read and cook. In Texas, I saw people use small drops in temperature as excuses to break out cozy sweaters and tall boots. Even where there is little change of the seasons, our bodies want a respite. We should take it.
At its best, that respite can be used for spiritual reflection. I’ll never forget one time when our family’s power went out on a wintry Sunday afternoon. As we huddled together on the couch, I stared at our single candle’s flame, feeling a sudden, profound understanding of how God is the light of the world.The cold can draw us together. There’s a Danish concept a European friend told me about, hygge, that evokes this. Hygge has no direct English translation but vaguely means coziness, togetherness, and well-being. Candles and fireplaces spark it. Snowflake lights, which many Buffalonians put up after Christmas, do too. Our friends here host game nights and fondue parties. We cuddle up with our families and drink tea, cocoa or mulled wine.
Winter also requires neighborliness. After the blizzard they nicknamed Snowvember blew through Western New York near the end of last year, shovel brigades formed to dig out. When my car got stuck on my street one day, my neighbor Seth stopped, saying, “Oh, I’m not in a hurry,” before directing my wheel-spinning and finally pushing the vehicle out. Snow can create fellowship — a recognition that we need each other.
Still, it’s not all about hiding inside from the winter or banding together to fight it. In the Virgin Islands where the Caribbean dominates life, I’d kayaked and swum. In Buffalo, we too embrace what we’ve got. We have cross-country skied, ice skated and played curling. We have plans to sled and snowshoe, too. We can all look forward to snow — rather than complaining or shuddering about it — when it allows for fun.
I still like the feeling of sunshine on bare skin. But I see now that the cold weather is good for us — for our social fabric and our souls. Embracing winter until its end is not the easier way, but in many ways, it’s the more rewarding one.