Winter: If you can’t beat it, join it

IMG_8952Did I mention the well of inspiration has been a little dry lately when it comes to writing? I think I probably did, a thousand times.

It came down to the wire with this week’s column, as I got to Thursday with absolutely no idea what I was going to put in Sunday’s paper.

I took the uncreative route and wrote about the weather and how I’m happily taking it in my stride. And in a vicious twist of fate, Sunday’s weather was awful. Freezing rain, slippery roads, dozens of crashes…FUN!

So this is absolutely not my best effort, but it’s…something.

I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to do it. It’s been done to death, and like clockwork every year. My coworkers have all done it in various ways. I thought, perhaps overconfidently, that I could spend the next two (three? four?) months avoiding – nay, resisting – it.

Every Friday night I read J.P. Devine’s latest battle with snowed-in trash cans in Waterville, and comparisons to Hollywood’s climate of yesteryear, and whenever we have a cold snap, one of my first thoughts is, “I wonder whether [Backyard Naturalist] Dana [Wilde] got out of his driveway today?”

I’ll put aside my penchant for the dramatic for a minute and explain: I’d challenged myself to make it through the winter without writing about the winter.

But as the all-knowing “they” say, inspiration comes in many forms. For me, it was reading Craig Crosby’s story at work this week about an ice cream social to raise funds for a terminally ill Monmouth man and his family. The story struck me for obvious reasons, but one particular quote that had nothing to do with the subject of the piece jumped out at me.

“[I]t’s supposed to be in the 20s on Saturday. That’s ice cream weather now.”

If I’d read that same sentence 18 short months ago, I never would have expected that I’d find myself firmly agreeing with it. Hell, 18 months ago I had no idea what temperatures “in the 20s” even felt like. Before I immigrated, first to Denver and then central Maine, anything below 32 degrees was a totally foreign concept.

Yet there I found myself, just hours after reading that quote, telling someone that it’s “pleasant out – it’s like 25 degrees out there!” Compared to the frigid day we had Tuesday, it absolutely was.

It’s probably an unfair comparison, though. I spent four months last year hearing how I’d arrived during one of the worst winters Maine had seen in years, and it “isn’t always like this.” I’m no meteorologist, and my landlord is quick to get on top of snow build-up, but so far as I can tell, it’s been a lot more mild this year.

That’s probably fortunate for my new-found complacence for getting rugged up to go outdoors, or even brushing more than a token amount of snow off my windshield after a fresh snowfall. But had this winter been my first, I’d have found it equally confronting and nerve-wracking, and a season like last year’s would have been fresh hell when I was eventually presented with it.

Even now, one year on, the first question I get when meeting someone new is, “why would you leave Australia for this?” The second question is inevitably, “how are you adjusting to the weather?”

Nowadays I rarely bother starting the car 10 minutes before I leave home or the office of a nighttime. I’ve had more than my share of strange looks at the grocery store, doing my shopping in gym shorts after a workout. I took the trash out at 11 p.m. in bare feet this week. My thermostat hasn’t been set above 62 since I moved into a new place last June.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend from back home asked me how the season was panning out and, having seen a photo or two that I’d shared on social media, wondered whether I was concerned about being snowed in and unable to get to work. I couldn’t help but laugh, and proclaimed the snowfall we’d received so far to be “nothing.”

Who is this guy, and what did he do with the wide-eyed and winter-clueless Australian of 12 months ago?

The biggest surprise to me is how quickly human beings can acclimatize to their surroundings. While I’m still slightly wary of the conditions, it no longer fills me with dread when the clouds open and the white stuff starts falling, making me wonder whether I’m going to survive the 11-minute drive between the Kennebec Journal office and home. I don’t budget an extra half-hour to shovel my way out, or agonize over whether I’m wearing enough layers.

I spent the first three months of last year trying to learn how to walk on frozen ground, which made “enjoying winter” absolutely unfathomable. So now, with my winter stress levels considerably lower, I can actually begin to focus on all the fun stuff that the season brings. Most notably, I’m still absolutely enchanted by it. I wrote in a column in mid-2014 that my all-new surroundings made me want to capture every single frozen thing in photographs, and that really hasn’t changed all that much.

A new snowfall makes me grin so wide you’d think I’d lost the plot. I awoke on Thanksgiving morning to a crater the shape of a 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pound man in the snow on my front lawn, from where I’d fallen on my back the night before. On purpose. It’s like I’m a kid experiencing winter for the first time.

Last year, I scoffed every time someone asked me if I was going to go skiing, proclaiming that I couldn’t afford a broken leg. This time around, though, my tune has changed. I’ll try everything once, and I’d be mad to hunker down inside and wait out the days and weeks until I see grass again in April (? May?).

I’ve got several friends eager to take me for my first attempts at skiing, tubing, building snow forts, smelt and ice fishing, and although I’m wary that their motives are more to watch me fall on my butt on the slopes, fall through a hole in the ice on the river, or just have a snow fort fall in on me, I plan to take each and every one of them up on that.

Because hey, it’s apparent that winter can’t be beaten. I might as well join it.

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