Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Colo(u)r of Winter

What does the onset of winter mean to you? Here, Mike and Toni share their thoughts:


We’re having a lovely autumn here in Sussex. Nothing to compare to the autumn colors back where I came from, but it’s unfair to make that comparison, as there is nothing in this world as fetching as a New England Autumn. Still, it’s doing its best, with red, gold and orange hues mixed with deep shades of green contrasted against the crystal blue sky.

Sorry, but autumn always makes me wax eloquent, or try to.

The good thing about autumn here, as opposed to back in the States, is when the red, gold and orange leaves fall from the trees, the green will stay behind. For the most part, green is the color of winter (along with the grey sky, but I can deal with that) and I like it a lot more than the white of the frozen tundra I used to have to endure.

In my view, green is a perfectly acceptable color for winter. I imagine it is like living below the Mason Dixon line, where winter doesn’t always mean a visit from temperatures that are best left in the laboratory for experiments to discover how noble gasses behave under extreme conditions. White is nice, in its place, but green is glorious, especially when it means I don’t have to shovel my roof.

But this winter, after nine blustery, brooding and bracing but (largely) snow-free British winters, we are planning a mid-season trip back to my homeland to introduce ourselves to the newest member of my family. And there is a chance—a slight one, to be sure—that I may be momentarily captivated by the serene, snowy landscape that will certainly await us. I put myself in danger of falling prey to memories of ice skating on the mill pond, tobogganing down the hill in the Town Park and cups of cocoa with marshmallows to warm us as we return—toes tingling, cheeks glowing and noses running—to the warmth of a familiar kitchen. I am just as certain, however, that after a few days of it, I will remember all the reasons I grew to loath the weeks between mid-November and the beginning of April and long for a return to the green of a Sussex winter.

And, besides, ice skating is way over rated.

As I write this it's Halloween and unseasonably warm in Chicago, thank goodness. There's nothing worse than Trick or Treating in a gale force wind or torrential rain, both of which are perfectly normal for this time of year. Given what we are about to experience (ie. winter) , warmth at this time of year is bitter sweet for Chicagoans. We know that within a month, we could be plunged into sub zero temps, the likes of which most Brits could never imagine. I thought it was cold growing up in the north east of England, but apparently I didn't even know the meaning of cold.
As Mike mentioned, not only does it get cold, but it gets barren too. The leaves fall off most of the trees and everyone's lawns disappear. When I first moved here I couldn't believe the sight of once well-groomed gardens looking like nuclear fallout scenes for the entire winter.
Yes, the snow is pretty - for a while. But months and months of shoveling (we city swellers don't tend to own snow-blowers) and salting wear thin very quickly. The salt plays havoc with your shoe leather and hardwood floors, and dogs tend to have to wear dog booties to protect their paws. (There's going to be fun in the Expat household the first time we try to wrestle new dog into them, I predict.)
Downtown there's a free ice rink where yes, families have great fun  - until the first signs of frostbite appear. Seriously. Our weather reporters constantly tell us how to spot and treat minor frostbite incidents, and parents are warned not to take children out unless absolutely necessary. Oh yes, (memories flooding back now) as parents of young children, you very quickly learn where the best and/or cheapest indoor play facilities are.
Fashion goes out the window as the floor length parkas come out. Many people here still wear furs, and although I don't, I have to admit that there's nothing better for keeping out those freezing winds as they whistle down from Canada, gathering speed across Lake Michigan. Boots with heals are relegated to the closet and 'sensible' footwear reigns supreme. (Lovely aren't they?) Last year I was so fed up with the cold I even wore a black balaclava (ski mask) to the horror of my children.  (I sensibly pointed out that since no one could actually see who I was, I wasn't embarrassed in the least.)  
Oh and your nose hairs freeze too. A very strange sensation indeed!


  1. My cousin and his family have moved to Canada this year (somewhere in Ontario - Kitchener I think?) and I'm thinking about running a sweepstake on how long it'll be before they come fleeing back to the UK.

    I couldn't stand it. I hate winter. I don't know what the Mason-Dixon line is (I'll Google it), but south of it sounds good to me! I've got one of those lightboxes but I'm not convinced they actually help. What would help is moving to a nice warm country - Australia or New Zealand are top of my list, but I'm open to suggestions of suitable places in the States or Europe. Not too near the Equator, and I don't mind a couple of months of cold, but somewhere generally sunny.

    I don't know how you do those months of freezing temperatures and staying indoors, I'd really really hate it.

  2. Ah yes, that lovely feeling of the boogers in your nose freezing - not something that ever happened to me in the UK!

  3. Aww you haven't lived until you've experienced the unlikely seeming sensation of your own sweat freezing.

  4. Here in Northern Sweden, I'm looking forward (?) to my first full winter since moving here from the UK. Luckily, I was here for a fortnight back in February (the coldest month, I'm told), where temperatures reached around minus 35 centigrade (minus 31 fahrenheit). So at least I know what I've got

  5. As well as the fact that Chicagoans do not wear christmas sweaters with reindeers I feel I have also been short changed here on the alcohol front. If you go to a Halloween party surely there should be lashings of booze...I don't care if its a kids's party. Are you with me on this basic human right or at the Baltimoreans just teetotallers?

  6. I actually don't mind the coming of winter here as much as I did in the UK. It's so much sunnier here than in the UK, even when the temperature is way below freezing. And then there are all those snowstorms - the boys are so excited by the snowfall that even if the snow shovelling is a pain, there are so many other positives eg. sledging. But I think autumn is now my favourite US season. So beautiful - and the mosquitoes have finally died and gone away!

  7. Here south of the Mason Dixon line, we may only get a few dustings of snow in February or March, but we get at least a couple of weeks where the highs don't go much above 35 F, and the lows get down in the lower teens. It always amazes me when it's warmer in the Shetlands than it is in mid state North Carolina! We don't see as much green in my area as browns and grays; lots of deciduous trees, and the grass all dies off unless you're in a good spot. The grass here has cooked brown all summer anyway, but if you're up closer to the mountains it's better.

    Honestly, I'd trade some more winter for the last few miserable summers we've had, with highs in the low 90's in early May and rudely staying in the upper 90's all the way through till the end of September.

  8. The bay area is very different. Our brown hills turn emerald with the rains, so green is the colour of winter. Our gardens still bloom. If you teleported yourself into San Francisco the only indication that it was winter might be the number of people with casts on their legs and the ski racks on the roofs of the priuses.

    We drive to winter. 15 ft walls of snow line the roads up in tahoe, and the colours of winter are bright, bright blue skies and glittering white snow.

  9. Geeky: That sounds lovely! But understand that now all of us secretly hate you ;)

  10. Here's a very sad story - I never realised why Christmas cards always had glitter on them for snow scenes. See, in England, even if it did snow, the sun was never really shining. It was only when I started going to Colorado for the Xmas break that I actually saw gleaming, sparkling snow and the light bulb went off - "That's what the glitter was supposed to be portraying."

  11. Mike, I don't know where you were last winter, but here in Oxford it was certainly white for half of January. And grey, rather than green is the prevailing colour of winter.

    Thankfully, I work in a college which has Virginia Creeper on the walls, so I'm currently surrounded by beautiful russeta nd gold.


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