Last Friday was our first snowfall though it didn’t amount to much — just enough, as Nick says in It’s a Wonderful Life, “to give the joint atmosphere.” With it came temps in the 20s at night and 30s during the day. Icicles appeared under the Metra overpasses on Saturday, and thanks to ideal weather conditions — a high-pressure system, cloudless blue sky, and favorable tailwinds — wave after wave of sandhill cranes passed overhead, nosing their way South.
Winter has arrived a month early. The sandhill cranes never lie.
I have mixed feelings about this.
I like snow falling. I don’t like fallen snow.
Snowing is beautiful. Snow is a nuisance.
I love snow that flocks the trees and bushes, sables the rooftops and blankets the grass. I hate snow that covers the sidewalks and streets.
I want everyone to remove the snow from their sidewalks once it stops snowing or as soon as possible the next morning. I don’t want the elderly to shovel. I don’t want anyone to get a heart attack from shoveling. I don’t want anyone who is physically impaired to shovel. But I still want snow-free sidewalks. Whatever it takes. I’ll make donations to a sidewalk snow-removal fund for teams of enterprising teens. Happy to contribute.
I hate it when snow gets trampled underfoot and compressed and can’t easily be shoveled and quickly turns to ice. I hate it when, even though merchants remove the snow from in front of their storefronts, the snow in front of empty storefronts goes untouched. Start a snow-removal fund in the business district. Lobby village hall. Something. No ice floes on our sidewalks! You could get elected with that slogan.
I love it when snowplows remove the snow from streets. I hate it when the plows push that snow up against the corner curb cuts where it turns into slush icebergs that pedestrians have to climb over. I think the village should clear every corner cut on main thoroughfares after every snowfall, and I give advance approval to have my taxes pay for that service.
I also like it when snow gets plowed from the lot where I park, but not when it walls in my car, which I don’t drive every day, so when I do, I have to shovel it out. I hate having to brush the snow off my car, especially when I forget to allow extra time for that purpose, which makes me late. Or when I’m running errands and have to brush the accumulated snow off every time I return to my car.
I love it when snow has been removed from sidewalks and streets and blankets everything else — but not for too long. I like snow that doesn’t overstay its welcome, that hangs around just long enough to build a snowman or go sledding or paint a picture-postcard landscape, but melts before it gets grey and slushy. I don’t love snow when it melts and leaves pond-sized puddles covering the sidewalks, so you have to walk in the street and dodge cars that splash sideways when they hit the potholes.
I don’t love snow when it gets dirty because it’s ugly and reminds me how filthy our semi-urban environment really is. I don’t love having to take my shoes off every time I enter my apartment to avoid snowmelt puddles on my floor, and I especially dislike it when I need to run in to pick something up and run right back out. Can I get in and out before the snow on my boots melts? No! Then I have to wipe up the tiny polluted globules.
I don’t love the extra clothing we have to wear, which is cumbersome and requires a longer inventory by the door to make sure I haven’t forgotten something — gloves, scarf, hat, keys? In summer, it’s just keys.
I like winter much better when temps are above freezing. I put up with winter when they dip into the 20s. I hate, hate, hate winter when the thermometer falls below 20. I hate the severity of wind chill, the awful desiccation of salt-glazed streets, the murderous malevolence of single digits and below-zero.
I love, love, love the peaceful slumber of winter in natural settings when the air doesn’t assault my face. I love walking in falling snow but hate driving in it. I hate walking and driving when it snows sideways. I love being curled up safe and secure in the warmth of my home during a cold spell if I don’t have to go outside, but I hate not being able to go outside when the battle with the elements is too great. I hate that almost every measurable snowfall we get is followed by an arctic blast.
I especially hate severe cold during the dark hours, but I love the gradual lengthening of daylight beginning in the New Year. And I love the post-holiday, peace-and-quiet respite of January.
I love snow that dusts. I love snow that falls in lazy clumps. I love quality snow, not quantity snow. I like snow as a garnish, as a decorative flourish, not as the main course. I love snow that blends, not blankets. A little goes a long way. I like dry snow that billows sideways with each footfall like soapflakes, snow that willingly surrenders to the shovel’s gravelly slurp.
Winter is a battle and I have to gear up a little more each year to engage. I mourn the loss of spring, summer and fall when the cold arrives. I love the longing for warmth and new life that winter engenders and the euphoria when spring finally arrives. I love the return of Daylight Savings Time in March even more than I hate the arrival of Central Standard Time, that most bureaucratically sterile of Soviet-style designations. I marvel that anything living can survive outdoors all winter and revel all the more in the songbirds’ return in the spring.
I surrender to winter’s luminous night of the soul, knowing it prepares us for the fertile rebirth to come.
Which always arrives about a month later than I need it.