The Quiet Season

The days are short and cold, and it snowed last Sunday. The tree canopies, now brown, have thinned. The birds have begun migrating southwards — I hear their calls from my room, where I sip coffee — and people in puffy parkas rush to and fro along the sidewalks. Gray clouds float low in the sky. Although the December solstice is still eighteen days away, it is winter. I can feel it. 

Winter in New England is so different from winter in New Orleans. In New Orleans, there is just a faint suggestion of winter cold. People still wear shorts to jog along St. Charles Avenue, and skinny tinsel adorns the streetcars. People still sit outside to read, to play music; dogs prance around parks and pigeons still peck around Cafe Du Monde. After the sun sets, the city becomes raucous and luminous. Winter in New Orleans is like the rest of the year, except for summer (an acrid season, heavy with heat and humidity; dazed by deluge and by the sun; overripe, overalive). Yes, compared to summer, winter in New Orleans is nothing at all. 

But winter on the jagged northeastern edge of this country is harsh, unwavering in its  harshness, in fact, insistent upon it. It’s the opposite of summer in New Orleans: here, winter produces an abiotic environment. The trees are empty shells for these months; the birds are gone, as are the insects; all the grasses and flowers and perhaps even the lichens freeze over. The world becomes silent, and it’s this silence, in part, that makes the winter so inescapable and omnipresent. 

The other seasons are forgettable, or easily tolerable — they mesh well with the conveniences of modern living. But winter disrupts daily life in a way I’ve never experienced before. There are heaters and heavy blankets, there are new forms of clothing — the gloves and hats and wool socks, the undignified long underwear — there is tea in thermoses and soup in the evenings. People shovel snow and pick ice off their cars; I’ve noticed my bike lock has started catching, and I have to jiggle it a certain way to unlock it. Winter changes things. 

I’ve spent two winters in New England, and I’ve found that these months are a time of  reflection. Snow and ice reflect the sunlight, and they sparkle a bit. Rivers turn glassy and move slower — I watch the rhythm of the waves and my heart slows down. (Can anything be alive in there? In the summer, there are white caps on the Thames, and the water itself seems sentient.) I was in the library yesterday, lounging in a plush leather armchair, when I looked up and saw my reflection in the window. After the winter sun sets in the late afternoon, the interior world illuminates. I was sitting next to a friend that evening, who had once told me that she likes the seasons. Winter, she said, gives her time to digest summer’s chaos — a brumal introspection. A quiet, solitary self-reflection.

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