30-minute write 13 Dec 2018

Winter is coming

Winter as metaphor or winter as a season?

I never liked winter. I don’t like being cold, I never understood skiing. I need the sun, even if I’m staying inside. I live in California but I buy those full-spectrum light bulbs they get in Sweden. I hate my winter clothes, their bulk and heaviness. Ironically, a colour specialist once told me I’m a Winter. But I’m perfectly happy wearing black and red in summer.

In my home, the carpets come out for winter. The heat, recently installed, comes on. I desperately hang lights, and turn them on at 4 o’clock. I drink endless cups of hot tea, and wear fingerless gloves to bed to read. I don’t understand the people who complain that it never snows here. My father, who moved here from New York many years ago, has never missed the snow and never seeks it out. The only experience I have with snow is seeing it from far away, except for one year when we took the kids up to Julian to “see the snow” and my son nearly sledded off a sheer drop. This experience did not endear me to snow, and reinforced my hatred of winter.

I don’t like the grey, I don’t like the rain, I don’t like the shortness of the days.

But winter is also, of course, a metaphor. We have the winter of our discontent, and the ultimate winter of death. People die in winter. It’s a season of our life, the winter of our life. We celebrate spring as a relief from the fear of death. What’s funny is that one cannot know what season we’re in anyway. For all I know, I’m in the winter of my life right now.

As a child, winter meant the fog. Summers were intolerably hot, but the fog in winter chilled the bones. Sometimes it felt like there was no warmth to be found anywhere. The fog was a ground fog, the Tule fog, and it would settle into the valley, hugging the ground for weeks at a time. If you were lucky enough to leave town, you could look back from the Grapevine and see it lying on the valley like a heavy blanket.

The fog made it so you couldn’t see things. We joked at the blindness: it was so bad you couldn’t see — fill in the blank: your neighbor’s house, the tall building over there, the trailer across the street. But the scary times were when you couldn’t see the hood ornament on your car. One time, when I was in high school, I drove with friends up the valley to attend a wedding. On the way home, we pulled into a gas station to fuel up. Then we drove off, and less than a mile later realized we’d left the gas cap on top of the pump. We blindly turned around on the highway, which was terrifying in the fog, and went back, but we couldn’t find the station. It had disappeared in the fog.

So perhaps there is a place where metaphor and season combine, when the cold becomes both a tanglible sensation and an intangible fear. The fog surrounds us and isolates us, from ourselves and from each other. We drive off with the gas cap on the pump, hoping we won’t crash and burn because we couldn’t see far enough ahead.

I remember driving home from friends’ houses late at night, and seeing the only visible thing along the way: a digital clock on the bank. It told the time and temperature. 2:05 a.m., 24 degrees. A reminder, like a ghost. I was out too late, I was in the fog, it was below freezing. One night I drove off the road. No one else was on that road but me — it went across the farm fields. My car spun backward and slid into a ditch. It was below the level of the road, I thought — no one will see me. I’ll be out here all night.

But a truck came along, one of those wonderful Okie farmers I had never thought twice about. He had seen me slide off the road, told me not to worry, got out a rope, tied it to my car, and dragged me out of the ditch. I must have thanked him, but I don’t remember. I remember going on my way home along the cold and empty road, thinking how even in the winter, people are there, there to help. And that made winter less horrible.

Perhaps it is just that winter is a time of introspection. You can’t go anywhere, so you might as well read and think. The darkness may not be despair, it may just be quiet. Winter may be the season of metaphor itself, even more than spring, because it’s when we can think about all the seasons of our life, and wonder when in life we are.

2 thoughts to “30-minute write 13 Dec 2018”

  1. Or you can escape it – as in go to India – always full of colour, light and warmth – if not physically then in your reading, in your head or in your imagination. Winter is not coming over here – it is very much already with us. Short cold days, frosty nights and constantly trying to keep warm. But it also brings open fires, crisp skies, mince pies and mulled wine! So not all bad. Keep warm. Jenny

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