It’s that time of year again! The trees are bare, leaves scattered beneath blankets of pure white snow and ice. The air is frozen with the fresh scent of pines and sap, its sharp chill biting at the nose and throat as one breathes. It’s silent, save for the occasional mechanical buzz of snowmobiles, the jolly screams of kids playing in the snow, or the roar of the snowplow blasting by down the road. At least, that’s what it would be like across the country where I’m from. Here, we’re caught in limbo between autumn and spring, but more on that later.
When I was a kid, I loved winter. Like, really loved it. It was by far my favorite season. Where I grew up, it snows. A lot. As a tyke, there’s nothing better than waking up on a cold January weekday, hearing the silence left behind by cars not driving on the roads, lifting up the shade on the bedroom window to find that three feet of glorious white powder had fallen during the night, and the best part of all, watching the name of your school show up on the morning news report’s closure list. Snow day! Let’s go skiing! How about building a snow fort in the yard! Hot chocolate and a roaring fire! The best of everything.
This doesn’t happen (much) as an adult. Actually, I’ve never had it happen since I graduated college. Moving to coastal California tends to have that effect. But I’ll get to that eventually.
The start of winter meant Christmas, the absolute best holiday for a kid. Never mind the religious stuff (boy could I get into that), it was irrelevant to my young mind. Christmas meant getting up early, gathering with family by the amazingly decorated tree in the living room, and having my material wishes granted by the big man in the chimney. Not only that, but we got to go to Grandma’s house and do it all over again. I have nothing but the fondest memories driving on the snowy roads to her house, sitting around her living room and soaking in the season. Times like those don’t come around again. For a child, Christmas is magic. For an adult, it’s still okay, but it gets more complicated and obviously, not magic.
But winter. No, winter can still be magic. Where to begin here? How about with the music first! These are my quintessential winter albums, driven only by nostalgia and happenstance:
- Barefoot Truth – Walk Softly (2009/10)
- The Black Keys – El Camino (2011/12)
- Coldplay – Parachutes (2004/05)
- Emancipator – Soon It Will Be Cold Enough (2008/09)
- A Fine Frenzy – Pines (2012/13)
- A Fine Frenzy – Bomb In A Birdcage (2011/12)
- Fistful of Mercy – As I Call You Down (2010/11)
- HAIM – Days Are Gone (2013/14)
- Milo Greene (2012/13)
- Moby – Play (2005/06)
- Motoi Sakuraba – Golden Sun (2003/04)
- Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (2007/08)
- Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile (2007/08)
- Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts I-IV (2007/08)
- Radiohead – The King of Limbs (2010/11)
- Radiohead – OK Computer (2005/06)
- Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011/12)
- Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes (2005/06)
- Tori Amos – Under The Pink (2005/06)
- The Verve – Urban Hymns (2005/06)
They come in bursts. Early 2006 was my first adventure down to Arizona in years (which would become something of a winter break tradition for the next few), and I dragged some memories with me. California is tricky (seriously, I’ll get to it) so most of the others, especially the recent years, are those songs which I’d listen to on trips home. I didn’t return to Buffalo for the holidays this year, so we’ll see what that amounts to insofar as nostalgia goes, if anything.
Now, where was I? Right, winter. What about it? In the beginning, there’s that first chill. There’s something comforting about feeling a cool wintry draft float into the room, only to be pushed away by a dry warm mass of air from a blazing fire, or a hot furnace.
It gets dark early and stays dark until rather late in the morning. That means dark commutes, no daylight outside of working hours, and cold. Or, it means everyone puts up lights. Houses, trees along the streets, buildings, even skyscrapers are decked out in string lights. Even walking down the sidewalk in the city becomes an extraordinary experience; that’s one thing that really cemented my love for my first trip to Seattle.
Getting away from the lights, things tend to quiet down. The nights are long, dark, and cold. But the moon is bright. With the sun’s path way down low in the winter’s day, the arc of the moon rises lofty in the winter’s night. The stars shimmer through dry air and the moonlight creates long shadows on the blank white ground. The porous blanket of frozen water absorbs all sound. It’s dead quiet in the dead of winter. Nothing to hear but the patter of heavy snowflakes piling up. Nothing to see, except a granular white shower as the flood light goes on.
It’s inherently mysterious. The long darkness obscures. The snow cloaks. Lively bodies of water freeze. The world slows down, at least a little bit. I can’t even find the words to describe the intense pull a dark winter’s night has on my sense of adventure. I can, however, pinpoint the source of that sense, which happens to be the Game Boy games I’d get every Christmas. Pokémon (all of them), Golden Sun, RPG Maker 2000… I peaked with all of these games in the winter and they really messed me up in an awesome way. Thanks for shaping my childhood, Nintendo.
Alright, back to today. It’s winter and I’m in the Bay Area. I’ve been in California so long it seems that I’ve actually begun to associate fog with winter, rather than snow. A somewhat recent bright, but diffusely lit day in San Francisco, still within the bounds of summertime, had me nostalgic for winter. A cool, densely foggy morning commute from the Tri-Valley to the Peninsula was laden with January vibes, despite it being early November. On the flipside, it was hovering around 15°C just this week. As a result of the rains we’ve gotten this month, everything is again turning quite a verdant green. The world’s rebirth combined with a slightly chilly, low sun screams spring at me. When the sun goes down at 5pm, it’s winter again. California weather is so freakin’ weird. The nights have been freezing and I’ve been cranking the heat up a bit; the chill displaced by the dry warmth. As I said before, it’s comforting.
Alright, that’s quite enough now. I’d like it to be spring, please. Hey, you know where it’s always spring/fall? Oh I don’t know…