Dear Milk Streeter,
My wife, Melissa, does not like winter one bit. The litany of horrors extends from icy walkways to chill winds to driving in the snow and slush. She waits for spring like a mallard who got caught in an early snowstorm and never made it south to Panama.
I am more of a snowbird. Some species—the common redpoll, the northern cardinal, or the evening grosbeak—are quite comfortable in winter snows, the redpoll actually burying itself in snow to stay warm. Other hardy birds migrate south to New England for the winter, which, from their perspective, must be like heading south to Orlando. This winter has done its part to solidify my wife’s public position on her least favorite season—snow and single-digit temperatures, followed by heavy rain. She just might run for office on that platform.
Being my mother’s son, however, I look forward to that first gray blustery day in November, the one that shouts out, “Winter is coming! Split extra kindling, check out the straps on your snowshoes and remember to have your flues cleaned!” It stirs my soul, it awakens me from the empty torpor of hot sunny days, giving me the freedom to rustle around in the hall closet piled with gum boots, waxed hunting gear, and my favorite winter long coat, which is a cross between a bear and a brown bathrobe. While the rest of New England dreams about a pool, guacamole, and a margarita, I’ll take all the bad weather I can get. Some claim that it's just my dour personality that seeks out a howling snowstorm so thick that one shuffles about blindly. The truth of the matter is that I remember winters in a small yellow farmhouse, the bachelor farmers in a circle around the wood cookstove, with two dogs, Bonnie and Daisy, stretched out nearby. On a small mountain farm, rheumy-eyed farmers tell old stories while neighbors come in and out—it’s vintage theater; a series of one-act dramas.
If life is a stage, then winter is a necessary scene change. King Lear required his howling storm to mark the depth of his grief and madness. Try that on a sun-swept Bahamian beach.
I will be glad to see winter go by mid-March—all I ask is that the seasons do not linger. Hit hard and let the next actor take the stage. But, and I know this to be true, in late August there will be a first cool night, when temperatures drop below 40, and hope flickers for just a moment because thoughts of migration are stirring and that first dark, cold day of November is just around the corner.
But Spirit of the Northland! let the winter breezes blow,
And cover every giant crag with rifts of driving snow.
Freeze every leaping torrent, bind all the crystal lakes,
Tell us of fiercer pleasures when the Storm King awakes.
Happy to be in the depths of winter,
P.S. The poetic excerpt is from “Memories,” found in the Joe Beef cookbook “Surviving the Apocalypse.” It was originally taken from “The Habitant and Other French Canadian Poems.”