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The upside of winters in upstate

winter woods

I was going through some old Life Lines columns and happened to come across this one from January 2002. This snowy Sunday seemed like the perfect time to pull it out of the archives and reprint it here:

Ever since we moved back to New York after almost six years in Texas, we’ve heard the same thing over and over again from friends, relatives, co-workers, and absolute strangers: Are you ready for the loooooong winter? As if we live in Nome, Alaska.

We smile and remind everyone that – in addition to the fact that we’ve already lived through a loooooong winter in upstate New York since arriving here in early January last year – we were born and raised not all that far from here. Our kids may not have seen snow before landing at Newark International Airport, but I have many fond memories of snow days and sleigh riding, cold toes and hot cocoa. Yes, we’re ready for the loooooong winter because it gives us a chance to sloooooow down.

With the holidays behind us and months of cold weather ahead, there is nothing to do but put on an extra sweater and switch into slow gear. (OK, there is the fairly regular need to shovel the driveway, but we have to get exercise somewhere, right?) Winter is a time to sit by the fire and read a chapter book with Noah, to play Chutes and Ladders for the gazillionth time and maybe not even mind so much, to sip a cup of tea in the middle of a Saturday afternoon because it’s too cold to take the kids to the park. Am I ready for this? I can’t wait for it.

As someone who has spent her fair share of years away from the ebb and flow of the seasons, I can assure you that it is a wonderful thing, too wonderful to miss, really. It’s easy to take the beauty of winter for granted until you’ve lived in a place where it’s summer almost year-round.

I was reminded of that one unseasonably warm afternoon early last month when I decided to take the kids on a hike. I almost didn’t suggest it because I knew the trees would be bare, the trails would be lifeless, and the sounds of nature would be muted. As we set out on Beaver Trail, with Olivia in the backpack and Noah leading the way, I was struck by the awesome splendor of the woods around us.

The stark, rigid lines of winter brought everything into focus. We could see things we had never seen before – beyond waterfalls, behind fallen trees, past fields and pine groves. We even surprised a deer. Actually, he surprised us before bounding up a hill.

I felt rejuvenated by the knowledge that winter was coming and with it some much-needed time to refocus our attention on what’s important to our family. Maybe, if we’re lucky, our own vision will become winter-sharp and we’ll see beyond the boundaries we usually set for ourselves.

I wanted to shake off the record-breaking warmth of that day and feel the cold, crisp air of winter catch in my lungs. I wanted a reason to do nothing more than gather the kids in the family room with a big bowl of popcorn, our costume box and a pile of books.

Sure, snow can be a hassle. We have to shovel it. We have to drive in it. We have to get on with the details of our lives and sometimes it slows us down. But that can be a good thing. That’s why God invented toboggans and miniature marshmallows.

Are we ready for the loooooong winter? Let’s just say that for the first time in 30 years I own a pair of snow pants.

This column originally appeared in Catholic New York in January, 2002.

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