I don’t think I really understood winter until I fell in love with a farmer.

Our courtship began in spring, when Earth was exploding with new life by the hour. As a result, I didn’t see her much, even though she had essentially already moved in. She would wake before the sun and come home after it had gone down, tanned and exhausted.

“Just wait until winter,” she’d say at some point during the five-minute window between when she came home and when she’d pass out asleep.

Winter came and we cocooned. We read books, drank hot beverages, watched the snow pile up outside and, well, didn’t leave the house much. We didn’t feel guilty about this because what else is a farmer supposed to do in the winter? And even though I wasn’t a farmer, I started to see the wisdom in structuring your life this way.

Many cultures have a season in which the world tells you to slow down, stay in and do less. The American South has its broiling summers, Southeast Asia has its monsoon season and West Africa has the Harmattan, the dusty, windy season in which the air gets so dry it can cause nosebleeds.

This winter is very different. We’re now married, she’s no longer a farmer, we are definitely not cocooning and you probably aren’t either. Neither, it would seem, are crocuses and bats, who have already made an early appearance here in the Highlands due to the unusually warm, snow-less weather.

Although I can’t see them, the same is probably also true for black-legged ticks and emerald ash borers, snug in their underground dens and tree trunks instead of being killed off by sustained cold temperatures, biding their time until they emerge and begin wreaking havoc once again.

The snowshoes I bought for Christmas 2021 for my wife, and the snowshoe poles I bought for my son this past Christmas, are still sitting in their original packaging by the garage door. About the closest we’ve come to winter is playing the newly released Nintendo game Blanc, a gorgeously hand-drawn cooperative adventure in black and white.

One player controls a tiny black wolf cub who awakes after a blizzard to find themself separated from the pack, while the other plays a white fawn in a similar predicament. The two players guide these unlikely allies as they make their way together through deep snow in order to find their families.

What I’ve found most striking about the game isn’t so much the heartwarming storyline, or the clever puzzles the two characters must solve together in order to progress, but the long stretches of the game where not much happens and the two of you quietly walk through white forests and blanketed, empty towns.

A snow-covered street now seems like a more fantastical, escapist setting for a video game than any distant planet or medieval kingdom. “Where are all the people?” my son asked as we navigated the cub and fawn down an unplowed street.

“They’re snowed in,” I replied. “You remember what that’s like.”

“Oh yeah,” he said, dimly recalling a distant memory from his childhood of what winter was like in the old days (i.e., five years ago.)

My heart soared earlier this week when a flurry of fat flakes came down as I was running down the northeast face of Mount Beacon, but they melted as soon as they hit the 40-degree ground.

From the Nintendo game "Blanc"
From the Nintendo game “Blanc”

That’s been one upside to a warm winter with little ice or snow: better conditions for long runs in light layers among the mountains, and clear streets for packing in as many errands and activities as the day allows. But three months of this instead of hibernating at home has left me feeling overextended. “Like butter scraped across too much bread,” is how Bilbo Baggins describes it to Gandalf in the early chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring.

Of course, what both Gandalf and the reader suspect at that point is that Bilbo’s troubles don’t come from a busy schedule but from the perverse effects of long-time exposure to the cursed One Ring, which he has, until then, been unable to give up.

“Silly hobbit,” I think to myself as I recall the passage. “Why can’t he just give up the thing that’s causing all of his problems?” And then we get in my car to run more errands, the emissions from my tailpipe seeping up into the atmosphere, warming and weirding the winter even further.

As we drive into town, the sky glows in the ever-increasing afternoon as the sun slowly makes its way back to Earth, lengthening the days. Sometimes, the light looks like a glorious spring evening, inviting us to keep going, keep pushing, just cross one more thing off of the to-do list, just take on one more project. And sometimes the brilliant golden light looks like a candle burning at both ends.

Behind The Story

Type: Opinion

Opinion: Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

The Skidmore College graduate has reported for The Current since 2014 and writes the "Out There" column. Location: Beacon. Languages: English. Areas of Expertise: Environment, outdoors