So far this fall I’ve yet to leave for work in the early mornings wearing a jacket or coat. I figure as long as the day’s temp starts out above freezing and there’s still no snow on the ground, I’m good to go. But this is just me pushing back against Old Man Winter and his suffocating ways, with frost-covered windows and the narrowing of the driveway from maturing snowbanks on either side. It’s bad enough the darkness hangs around from the night before, crowding the wee hours until the sun is ready to play its second-fiddle tune, the short part of the day, made up of either bright-frigid notes or else a cloud-covered, blustery tempo.
I wasn’t always averse to winter. I remember the days of my youth when my brothers and I were dropped off Saturday mornings at the mid-town outdoor ice rink, where I would clumsily stumble on seemingly dull blades that felt as though they were made of lead, with wobbly aching ankles, begging for some sense of coordination. Yeah. A guy born and raised in a hockey town sucked at skating. It happens.
We played street football as well. Of course, it was nice when there was some fluff on the pavement from a recent snowfall. But even after a good packing down from traffic or sleet, there was still a fearlessness in our games. We played with intensity, never seeming to tire. And always, the game called on account of darkness. We’re all nearly fifty, but we actually had a rousing game a couple of Christmases ago. There’s just an awareness now to play within ourselves, i.e., not allowing the mind to run faster than the legs.
I remember signing up for ski trips to Spirit Mountain in Duluth during my junior-high years. They were after-school trips and we’d bus the twenty miles right around dusk. Everyone would break off into their little groups, skiing those short runs till nearly closing time. On the way back in the darkness, broken only by an occasional passing set of headlights, you could feel the spent energy and the closeness of a bunch of adolescents, engaged in silly flirtation, made up of non-sensical chattering or serenading, singing along to the latest pop song on the radio.
Back in the day my family snowmobiled through the streets of town and on the outskirts. Three Arctic Cats, all early-70s models. After spraying the heck out of the carburetors with WD-40, they’d fire up, and then we were off, chugging along, a convoy, both passive and casual. No daredevil stunts. No racing. Just out enjoying the small-town scenery, while little sister changes colors from inhaling gas fumes.
Now-a-years, I hunker down for the long, insufferable agony that awaits those of us who live in that place where most of us would not otherwise live had we not been born there. I have a stack of books to read and a bright lamp that serves as a piece of a pretend tropical getaway. It’s a setting that helps me maintain my sanity. But only until one of the housecats, looking for warmth beyond its own coat, jumps into my lap, its purr reminding me of the outdoor brrr.