Much like this year’s seasonal abeyance itself, it’s only after a few fits and starts that I’ve finally settled into my wintertide rhythm.
It feels good to recalibrate the flue, stoke the fire and clamp down the hatch in preparation for a slow, steady burn. As a moody Aquarian, my constellation has always shone brightest from amid the cold, dark crags of the northern hemisphere. I’ve identified as a winter kid ever since I first shouldered the straps of a JanSport and tugged down the fur-fringed ear flaps on my Mad Bomber hat, bracing against the frigid predawn darkness of a Minnesota blizzard as I trudged down the wooded path to our neighborhood bus stop.
Even if winter is coded in my DNA, I struggle along with everyone else during the period of awkward acclimatization between two seasons whose margins aren’t clearly delineated, when the sloppy cessation of autumn merges with the slushy inception of winter and all I want to do is nap.
I’ve heard others describe this atmospheric hangover as a “winterlude,” although in our northwestern tier of Montana the phrase “hinterlude” might be a more fitting portmanteau, as the weather’s hazy resolve is exacerbated by the rapid erosion of sunlight. The days are short and splattery and the deficit of daylight mirrors my attention span.
And then, a sudden shift.
As I write this column on the eve of winter solstice, there’s been a week of steady snowfall and seasonally appropriate temperatures, during which my favorite wintertime activities achieved their full potential, doing so right in sync with the moon. My mood has also improved and so have my energy levels, and I don’t appear to be alone in this metamorphosis.
Based on a few chance encounters with strangers, the seasonal transformation has teased out a levity in others, too.
Last Friday, after a long but rewarding day at work, I emerged from my office to an abundance of fresh snow and a renewed sense of vigor and determination. Rather than seek comfort in food and rest, I layered up in fleece garments, loaded up my cross-country skis and drove to a nearby trailhead, which was empty but for one other car. My anxiety about the questionable skiing conditions abated as soon as I alighted on the snow, several inches of which had accumulated over the freshly groomed corduroy, sifted across the trail like a confectioner’s sugar.
Gliding along, I marveled at how the shadows played against the mushrooms and cornices of snow. It took me nearly 20 minutes to realize I hadn’t switched on my headlamp, so bright was the moon as it burned through the veil of clouds.
Perhaps 10 miles into my ski, as I crested a long and difficult climb and settled into the descent, I laughed out loud, delighting in the pristine conditions that just days earlier would have elicited a stream of profanities. Even as I reveled in the opportunity to have the trail all to myself, I felt a pang of longing to share the moment with someone else.
Just then, I saw the silhouette of another climbing up the trail toward me, his face illuminated by moonlight, his headlamp switched off.
As he passed, we nodded silently and gently clicked ski poles.
Winter has arrived.
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