Originally published in Cape Women, 1999
the Fall Equinox has come and gone, there’s no line at the
A&P, the tow trucks are sleeping it off in a back lot somewhere,
year-rounders are pairing off, and my work week has been cut in half.
expected it; yet, I’m not really prepared, psychologically,
that is. That’s still a problem for me. But at least now I know
what winter means. When I first moved up here from North Carolina, I
had no idea. The year before I had washed my car in a bathing suit on
New Year’s Day. I believed an umbrella would protect me from the
rain. I didn’t know it fell horizontally. The only coat I had was
a hot little red jacket that was more for prancing than protection. People
kept saying to me, “you’d better get a real coat.” “Oh,
I’m fine," I’d answer, flipping my curls. “You
better get a warm hat,” they’d add.
year the first snow came on November 10. I placed an emergency call
to Land’s End and got one of those huge hooded parkas that
will take me down to -50 degrees and completely obscures my gender. Now
I’m into outerwear – coats, hats, gloves, ski sweaters, boots,
scarves, wool socks, rain shoes, earmuffs, slickers. Forget prancing.
I just want to be warm. Besides, I live in an art town. As long as I
have one of everything in black, I’m cool.
I’m still handicapped, though, when it comes to getting dressed.
It’s just not in my conceptual framework, maybe dropped out of
my gene pool altogether, that there could be such a vast difference between
the environment inside my toasty apartment (heat included) and the one
right outside on the front stoop. For the first couple of winters, I
was always sweating or shivering. Then I got a wonderful little thermometer
you stick to the window frame and run a wire over the sill to the outside.
Now I just push a button and voila! It might be 68 inside but I know
it’s 18 degrees out there. But what does 18 feel like? Cold! I
have born Yankee friends who can guess the exact temperature by the feel
of the air. I respect them for that. They’re the ones who told
me about the layers. Girl, can I do layers. I’ve got thermal long
johns and flannel pj’s and I’ve been known to run to the
post office in both, at the same time, under my super parka. I can
wrap up or peel off with the best of them.
course, the whole winter thing has brought other problems…er,
challenges, to my life. Storage is a big one. I can’t figure out
why there aren’t more closets in old New England houses. How did
they do the summer-winter switch? This is how I know the season is really
changing—I start wanting some piece of clothing that’s in
a taped-up cardboard box out in the shed under a tarp which I hope like
hell has kept it dry when the wind blows rain under the shingles. Late
fall is the most difficult. Warm sunny days, only a little chill in the
early morning air, blue skies, maples reddening around the ponds, stunning
pink sunsets, then, suddenly, nightfall, and the temperature plummets
25 degrees. I need that sweater in the shed. There’s a kind of
contest with myself, to see how long I can go; for once I make the switch,
summer’s gone for a long time.
don’t know... a kind of melancholy sets in. It’s nature’s
way, a native friend assures me. The cycle of life. Nature is letting
go of the old, everything is decaying, dying, necessary for regeneration
and blooming. “Celebrate,” he encourages. “Enjoy the
special pleasures of the season. It’s a time for burrowing in,
for nesting, for getting prepared for the inactivity of winter.”
hate it when someone gives me such wholesome advice. Especially if
I’m already giving it silently to myself. I do want to have a creative
winter. I’ve come to love the time and space and solitude that
winter in this summer resort town gives me. I have a novel on the burner.
I have a new studio space and I’m halfway through an art project
I started last winter. It’s just the transition that’s hard.
I don’t do change that well. But I think about what he said…about
celebrating the special pleasures of the season.
remind myself to be right where I am. It’s no longer summer
and it’s not yet winter. Be conscious of the present. I
go outdoors and look at living things, observe their seasonal changes.
they preparing for winter? Attend to your senses, I tell myself.
So I look,
touch, listen, smell, taste. I dedicate a week to this experience,
recording in my journal the damp and earthy smell of mushrooms, the
tart bite of
wild cranberries from the Pamet bog, the sudden ruffling wing-beats
of a great flock of sparrows rising from a yellowing field, the long
of a low sun across the road I walk, the cold and black pond. I am
reminded I am nature, and that my natural, higher self knows everything
to know to live in the world. I can let go and nothing will be lost.
the end of the week, senses acute, I see a very fat skunk coming and
going under the shed, and I think, sweet, she’s making her
nest. Oh, my god, I’d better get my sweaters out of the shed before
they’re rank with parfum de Skunk! How will I find someone to
sleep with this winter if I smell like a skunk?