Watching the Olympic athletes in Korea contend with punishing winds and dangerous slopes, I marveled. Those hardy souls who rejoice in snow and ice are a race apart. Most of us are waiting out the winter, wishing it were over, or fleeing if we can. In January, the walls start to close in and by February all the way through March, cabin fever can lead to the heebie-jeebies. So I escaped, not to a palmy island, but to the Cape Ann Museum where I unexpectedly found myself enchanted by an urban landscape called “Winter View from Gloucester Mill,” oil on Masonite, by Anna Comolli. Not sure why, I kept going back for another look at monochromatic, snow-covered warehouses and icy parking lots.
Then I walked outside and there, in the distance, was the freezing Atlantic, sere and stunning, not an easy beauty, but breathtaking.
I understand why friends and neighbors flee south. Swaddled in layers, like a cabbage, I am a klutz. I lose gloves, hats, and keys. I wear holes in my woolen socks, which never last the season.
Baby, it’s cold outside and it doesn’t even stop there. This is a terrible climate for windows. Glass is no match for these temperatures. Pull down the blinds and draw the drapes as you may but it seeps in anyway, like a villain in a horror movie.
February has the advantage of being the shortest month. The sun gets braver, and we celebrate the extra minutes of light, which promise but do not deliver warmth. In March, the evening makes a real comeback, but that’s a tease — consider our recent Nor’easter. And we all know that New England Aprils are the cruelest.
The deciduous trees may look like skeletons, but that’s a bad comparison. Bones never grow flesh again, but the brittle-seeming branches are actually a living lattice, preparing for the green revival to come — eventually.
In the meantime, it’s a good idea to bring flowers into the house, or visit a botanical garden, or walk into a florist shop and take a deep breath. Of course, when you go back outside, eyeballs vibrating from the colors, you have to choose between despairing at the drained landscape, and paying homage to the waiting canvas of the world.
I write from a position of privilege. I do not have a head cold at the moment, or a driveway to shovel, or squirming children who hate their snowsuits. I don’t have to take a bus tomorrow morning. I can afford to heat my house. And I am old enough to be invested in getting something out of shorter days and the smart-aleck wisdom of the song title, “Spring can really mess you up the most.” Not all of those tender promises ever make it to September.
The admonition to live for today, “Carpe Diem,” is easy when you’re wearing shorts and there are rosebuds to be gathered. In the season of black ice and influenza, “Live for today” is a bitch. But that’s why human beings make art and other human beings are grateful that they do.
This essay first appeared on Cognoscenti