Winter is coming, and I am wary. Once more, the sky has commenced to darken early in the evening. In fact, this darkening is moving along much faster than I am prepared for.
I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I guess somewhere in the recesses of my mind I imagined I could escape the darkness in my prison break from winter in Southeast Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
Will I fare any better in Massachusetts than Alaska or Washington?
What does winter mean in this corner of the country?
I have memories from my childhood in Massachusetts.
In elementary and middle school, winter meant piles of snow at the end of the driveway, sledding down a steep hill and getting tangled in blackberry thorns, “snow days” off from school, and clear, bright skies in dry, chilly air.
In high school, winter meant less exercise and weight gain.
In college in Maine, winter meant a serious slip on the ice at least once a season. I would be walking along and then suddenly find myself on my back on the pavement. I might look across campus, see someone walking across the quad, look again, and see an empty space where ice had brought them to a supine position. Negotiating the pavement the winter I dislocated my shoulder and tore my ACL tendon was particularly tricky.
Last winter was the first I spent in a chilly but sunny clime, and it was the first I can remember not being overtaken by melancholia.
The depression can be gradual. At the outset, I imagine that I am doing just fine. I tell myself that the darkness isn’t so bad. I take my vitamin E. I nest in fleece and slippers and curl up on the couch.
In Washington, my ex and I placed headlamps in strategic locations and filled jugs of water for the inevitable and frequent power outages, repercussions of living in a remote, rural area along a state highway with dense copses of conifer and deciduous trees with heavy limbs just waiting to snap off under the weight of frozen rain and snow or the coax of northeast winds.
Any venture outdoors meant myriad layers of synthetics—silk, polyester, wool, and fleece. These were covered by layers of Gore-Tex rain gear—rain pants, raincoat, and rain hat. And you can forget fun, fashionable footwear. Insulated boots were pulled on before hands were covered by glove or mitten.
My ex bemoaned the winter. He spoke with romantic, dark, and sardonic intonations of the blessings of the winter months—flood, snow, nor’easter, darkness, power outage, and water system failure. He told me stories of winter winds blowing snow under the sink in the upstairs bathroom when our questionably renovated barn turned home was a bachelor pad for him and another fellow who used to work seasonally on the Skagit side of North Cascades National Park Complex.
I wondered if winter would be any more kind on my psyche after I left him, but alas. Of course, I don’t recommend combining the pain of separation and divorce over any kind of winter, particularly Southeast Alaska.
In Alaska, I had a happy light in my office with an unreal, luminous glow. I sat at my desk with silk long underwear beneath my uniform and brown leather slippers on my feet to keep from shivering.
I went to music and movie nights around town, hosted women’s nights at my home on Same Old Road, played my guitar and sang sad love songs. I was offered invitations from my sister and a friend to spend the holidays away from Southeast, but I declined. I had little vacation time to spare, and I thought I was doing ok.
The tiny headquarters at Glacier Bay emptied of other humans over the holidays. I drove to work in the dark, awaited the return of light to the sky by midmorning, went for a brief and tenuous walk in snow boot and Yaktrax ice guards issued by the park safety officer, and drove home in the dark. I kept a headlamp in my glove compartment and one in my jacket pocket to find my way from the car to my front door. When the sun went down over Gustavus, it was DARK!
I just barely survived that winter in Southeast Alaska. And spring came with little relief.
Life in Lowell has had its challenging moments—noisy neighbors, awful landlord, moving expenses, auto vandalism and theft—but thankfully these are ills that mean little in the bigger picture of sustainability of spirit.
I feel valued here. I am happy to return after my days off each week. My colleagues greet me with open arms, smiles, and kind words. They tell me they miss me when I am gone. And I am encouraged to write and perform songs from the stories of men and women factory workers.
So overall, life is good. That I will struggle with the grey skies, liquid sunshine, and increasing and impending darkness may be inevitable, but I know I will find a way to carry on through those dark moments to the lighter ones ahead.