The WORDS OF WINTER

By Adrea Gibbs

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I grew up in Southern California, but during my eighth year we moved to Massachusetts. During winter. It was the first time we had lived in snow. Our family had seen, played, even vacationed in snow, so the element wasn’t something with which we weren’t familiar, but living in it was a different story. Snow days were that of which dreams were made, for us kids, anyway. Pretty sure that was lost on my mom who wrangled with 4 kids and a cat confined in the house. Still, when those snow days became tediously endless for boredom and poor weather or the environment became an amalgamation of slush and dirty water, the glamour evaporated quickly for every unpredictable ankle-deep puddle we unwittingly discovered on the way to the bus stop. Winter did not have the romanticized luster of every holiday movie we watched in earnest. 

My husband had never seen snow until the year we went to Alaska to celebrate Christmas with my parents. One of my brothers and his wife lived in Anchorage, and on multiple occasions I had trekked north for the holiday, or summer or any excuse, really. My husband had never experienced a “real” winter, until stepping out of the car to partake in his first snowfall. Coupled with a spectacular view of Denali, in all its snowy-capped glory, it was quite the introductory setting. He was nothing short of captivated, if not giddy. At least until the cold got the better of him after ten minutes or so. It was all new to him. Even a bit magical. As an interesting side note, my mom took a bit of issue that for all the trips she and my dad had made north, they had never seen Denali in its entirety.  It’s hard, sometimes, in the majesty of a wintry spectacle, not to take things Mother Nature does personally, especially when earnest attempts had been made.

A year later, we moved to northern New York. In the winter. My husband shared with me, following his first official wrestling match with our (then) new snowblower, if I had asked would he consider moving to snow country as we visited the 49th state. After thawing out, he, no doubt, would have told me I was crazy. So, here we are, living the North Country life. Power outages and dirty snow getting slung up by the town plow on the freshly blown driveway are seemingly daily realities. While one need only look out the window at lithely wafting snowflakes gently touching down on the last stubborn bits of autumnal grass, or wake to see deer tracks dappling a blanket of fresh snow to realize there are two sides to this winter tale. It is definitely a love – hate relationship for many, but having seasons is, to my way of thinking, a gift, an expression of the natural world over which we have no control. Beautiful as it is dangerous. Heart-warming as it is cold. 

As I contemplated the Mid-Atlantic winter, I thought to search for words often associated with this time of year. Bare and barren, biting, bitter cold, bleak and blustery, under “B”, are as stark as the images they invoke. Words beginning with “C” were atmospheric and somewhat bright with chilling, chilly, clear, crisp, clean, and crunchy akin to the first sled run down a hill after the first snow. The “D’s” however; dark, dead, depressing, desolate, dismal, drafty, and dreary lean toward the “dismal.”

There are magical words that instantly conjure visions of a fantasy laden land, perhaps home to the Sugar Plum Fairy. Crystalline, enchanted, glistening, glacial, sparkling, and boreal each light, airy, and beautiful. “F” is fairly straight-forward for freezing, frigid, frostbitten, and frosty, leave little room for interpretation save any child-driven-Disney-influence pertaining most particularly to the word “frozen.” Fluffy is a good word, too, but I find myself thinking of puppies and kittens when presented without additional context. Powdery is a bit that way, too, unless I happen to be in ski-mode. Otherwise, I’m thinking deodorant, but that could just be me. 

“S” offers slippery, slushy, shivering, and, any word that includes “snow.” This is also true of any word that includes “ice.” Unending is probably a favored word by many when that anticipated front rears its wintry head come March or April just as the seedlings start to poke up. “W” seems too obvious; white, wintertime, wintery, and the aforementioned, wintry.

“Zippy,” was another I found interesting, but, for me, goes straight back to that first encounter with waist-deep snow in our Massachusetts front yard. It occurred probably within a day or two, if not the very day, we moved into the house we would call home on Edgewater Drive for the next year. As two of my brothers and I fell into the snowdrifts, our youngest brother, all of 2 at the time, was able to toddle across the top with no fear of getting sunk. As we laughed and cavorted, we heard someone yelling “Zippy” from a house across the street and field from where we played. Suddenly, a large ball of fluff came bounding through the snow, apparently as a way to introduce us to his owners and our new neighbors. Zippy was a white, standard poodle who had a wild abandon for playing in the snow and was more than happy to join the fun. Now that I think of it, I may be Zippy-influenced when it comes to the word “fluffy.”

Circling back to my husband and his personal thoughts on snow. On the morning following the first major snow storm since our move to the North Country, I got up to find the front door blown in and a snowbank in the front entry way. He never heard a peep from me about what I had discovered, when I hastily shoveled back outside, before he woke up. I feared that may have sent him packing back to Los Angeles in a hurry.