When ever I meet someone new here, the first question they ask me (after where are you from?) is always “have you been through a winter yet?” generally with far more glee than any Stark ever expressed about the thought that “winter is coming.”
My response has always been a cheery “No not yet, but I did witness the long winter a couple of years ago over Skype and I love snow.” To which I invariably get the response, “you’ll get sick of it eventually.”
Snow in England is a rare and exciting event. We dream of white Christmases and days off and snowmen, and then if we are lucky, we get a couple of inches some time in January and panic-buy bread and milk, while the entire country grinds to a halt.
Not so in northern Michigan. In 2015 the first snow fell on Halloween and the last snow fell March 24th, making for a nightmare drive to Chicago to pick me up for JT. That’s five months, nearly half the year, with snow on the ground.
In 2016, we had a “late” winter, it was so sunny during the election that my visiting sister started to joke that we had made the snow up. In fact it was well after Thanksgiving before we saw any snow that stuck. Then all at once the temperatures dropped to -15 Celsius and almost over night we had two feet of snow.
At -15 plus wind chill and colder, your life changes. We hit -20c without windchill a couple of times. Add in windchill and you are looking at frostbite in less than 30 minutes. These are serious temperatures. So serious in fact that there are government websites advising you how to deal with the cold. Certainly the first time I stuck my head out side without adequate face protection I got a migraine in less than five minutes.
These days I’m an old hand, I have two sets of thermals, one capable of dealing with much lower temperatures than the other. I have many hats and scarves large enough to wrap around my face. I invested in knee high sheepskins boots and have experimented with a variety of gloves, the best combo seeming to be silk liners inside ski gloves (even ski gloves can let your fingers numb after a while) . I also have a long and short down filled coat and snow pants for the really cold days or outdoor chores. It is second nature to me to check the thermometer outside our kitchen window over morning coffee and I’m so acclimatized now that any rise in temperatures above freeing feels almost balmy. (I learned the hard way that it was only the windchill that was keeping my menopause at bay one morning, and I over heated at the bus stop!)
There are lots of good things about the snow. It is stunningly beautiful here and I am constantly transported in my mind’s eye to Narnia, or the Wild Woods. I have taken up snowshoeing, which is easier than hiking in knee high snow, and on the sunny days in between snowfalls, JT and I have hiked to locations where ours have been the only footprints. Also I’m very good at something I call “arse tobogganing” , which essentially involves falling over on a steep enough slope to go flying down it on your ski pants! (Do not try this at home kids, you have to be a fully qualified and insured klutz to take part in this activity!) Snow blowing is a fun and hopefully fat burning exercise, which I count as just as taxing as yoga, and with more practical applications.
However, it can be a bit grim on the stormy days, (it can snow for 24 hours straight here) when it’s difficult to go out at all, and even fetching wood from the shed needs full ski gear. I once tried dashing to the mail box to get the post without coat and gloves and I had lost feeling in my hands in less than a minute and was almost crying from the pain on the 50 yard dash back – I never made that mistake again!
Even the dog has a coat and boots, which he hates until he tries going outside without the them, gets three yards outside and ends up lying down to get his feet off the ice, and whining to be carried back in. This may not be the daftest strategy out there, as unlike me he has not had any chilblains. however I might be lying there a good while before anyone comes to pick me up though, which is possible not the best plan.
It has also called a halt to my driving, I’m just not comfortable driving on ice, when I’m barely driving on blacktop, white out conditions are genuinely scary and I see far too many locals still managing to get stuck, to risk trying myself.
All in all, while I have loved my first winter here, I have to say I am very much ready for Spring to arrive, and no, before anyone asks, I do not want to build a snow man!
Frozen is an infamous Disney film from 2013 which was the bane of parents and teachers alike due to its delightfully catchy tunes!