February 1, 2011

The Armchair Philosopher: Winter

A quiet spot on the Riga Plateau.
Once more, I sit to write as snow falls and continues to add to Connecticut's already impressive snowpack.  This may be the first time I have used "Connecticut" and "snowpack" in the same sentence; a pairing normally reserved for discussions of Vermont or the Rockies shared over a frothy stout at a ski area bar, anywhere.  A co-worker observed today that she finds it hard to concentrate at work during a snowstorm, a mindset to which I most definitely relate.  Even though we're at work, it still feels like a "snow day".  I postulate that that response to snow is hard-wired into our brains as young children, when we eagerly anticipated the news of a school cancellation during a good storm.  While every school child undoubtedly loves the day off, it's fair to say than only a percentage of children (and adults) actually enjoy a good snowfall.  What differentiates the snow lovers from the snow haters?  Does the root of our snow affection (or affliction) lie solely in youthful experience, or can our feelings towards the cold white stuff change as we age?  Today's post will explore the myriad of feelings we experience with regard to the "dark months" on the calendar.

John and Jack on Mt. Washington.
When I was a grade-schooler, my circle of friends and family of a similar age greeted each snow day with a phalanx of cheap plastic sleds and toboggans; we constructed forts from the mounds of snow deposited by the neighborhood snowblowers; and we defended our forts and pre-pubescent honor with fusillades of snowballs and jests and valiant charges across the snowy battlefields.  Living on a steep hill, we blazed the fresh-fallen powder with our sleds and painstakingly constructed slalom turns and jumps along a course that snaked between houses and unplowed streets, and we raced the course despite the stern admonishments of our parents to stay out of the roads!  We hurled jeers and the occasional snowball at the unlucky snow plow drivers who cleared our luge route and, in our minds, blazed a navigable path directly to the school parking lot.  

The Woods Hippie on Mt. Moosilauke.
Lunch provided the only respite from the fury, a pause that allowed us to throw our soaked clothing into the dryer while we sipped hot chocolate and tuned to the Weather Channel in hopes of hearing the forecast that could lead to yet another day off.  Later years saw an advancement of technology and parental expenditure as we made the leap from sleds and toboggans to skis and snowboards, honing our skills during much-loved night sessions at the local ski hill.  Weeknight sessions eventually evolved into weekend ski trips with the family, then school-sponsored ski club trips, then ski-tinged collegiate parties, and then continent-wide journeys for steep lines, tight trees, and deep pow.  What comes next?  Personally, I can only hope to breed the madness into next generation of powder hounds.

Winter 2011 at the Hippie Homestead.
As the years progressed, it became apparent that not all shared our enthusiasm for winter.  The first clues manifested themselves in lunchroom conversations following a snow day.

Me (in early '90s speak), "Dude, wasn't that a rad snow day?"

Dude, "I don't know, played some SEGA NHL Hockey '93 or whatever."

Me, "You didn't go sledding?"

Dude, "Nah, man.  It was like, cold out and shit."

What?  Indoors on a snow day? Blasphemy!  The point hit especially hard in the teenage years when, to my chagrin, I found that the girls were likely to take an interest in me despite the fact that I was a skier...a paradigm shift for my snow- and hormone-addled ego.  What could explain the difference in attitude?  We were all born and raised in the same central Connecticut town and experienced the same precipitation, yet some of us had some sort of predisposition to the cold environs.  Now, sitting here on the precipice of 30 years of age, I see adults with the same attitude as my schoolyard peers (indeed, some of those adults are my former schoolyard peers, but time inexorably creeps on...).  

Marquis on Mt. Mansfield.  To those inquiring minds,
that is a crampon strap, not something illegal.
And so I now realize, much like religion and political affiliation, fondness for winter is a trait passed from one generation to the next.  The evidence in favor of my case is solid; I have great-grandparents who sailed in ice-boats designed and piloted by none other than the famed Herreshoff brothers of Rhode Island, a grandfather who reveled in several crossings of the Arctic Circle aboard a Liberty Ship in World War II, and parents, aunts, and uncles who skied the mountains of New England and the Midwest years before my time.  The genetic pattern repeats itself almost invariably among my snow-loving cohorts, with few exceptions.  For example, I have one ski buddy of Southern breeding who, in a triumph of good taste over geography, took an interest in and mastered the dark arts of Nordic and Telemark skiing despite the reluctance of his parents to even acknowledge that the thermometer has the ability to dip below 32 degrees.  The Force is strong in those who experience the "awakening".

You'll have to hike to find this Eden of the Snows.
Does the love for winter ever fade?  I asked myself this just yesterday as I straddled the roof of my house, shoveling off a month's worth of accumulation in anticipation of another round of snow, sleet, and ice.  My answer?  Hell no.  My inner New Englander, born of the hard Puritan winters of our ancestry, is only strengthened by the onslaught of winter's finest.  When the ebullience of skiing and snowboarding fades into sore muscles and  cherished memories, all that remains is the stark cold that bites into your cheeks and burns your lungs in a deep breath, the blanket of hoarfrost that sparkles in the crisp glow of a full moon, and the mournful howl of a Nor'easter wind that flies unmolested through the bare forests.  

If that doesn't quicken your pulse, then there is no converting the non-believers.


  1. Hi Woods Hippie,

    Great site, I'm glad you found mine (Live Free and Hike NH) so that I was able to find yours. You have some fantastic pics!

    I'm pretty fond of snow too, as you describe above. I wasn't always though...taking up snowshoeing changed all that. I'm hoping to try cross country skiing sometime soon. I hope to try snowboarding again (broke my tailbone on Loon back in 2003...haven't been back since!).

    BTW, I cannot locate your name anywhere!!! I checked the about me and your first post...maybe I missed something. Also, I added you to my blogroll...very cool blog, man!


  2. Michael, I enjoy your writing style. I enjoy the blend of photos and prose. Well done! Another Irish author in the family! xo ~ B ~

  3. Great read again along with some great pics. Almost makes me want to like all this CT snow.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Passinthru Outdoors Blog - Sharing the Passion

  4. I really enjoyed reading that... I agree with 'B', there might be another Irish author in the family! Can't wait to read the next one :)

    ~ Monkey

  5. @B and Monkey - if only this was a paying gig...

    Are RC and I the Great "Red" Hope for Irish/American writers?