Some winters can be magical

Published 4:24 pm Friday, January 16, 2009

It’s supposed to be cold this weekend. Really cold.

Earlier this week, one of the hostesses on the CBS Early Show commented about the winter weather in New York City.

“You know you are an adult when snow no longer excites you,” she said.

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From an adult perspective, I remember snow from our 10 years in Colorado, where there were four definite seasons. Winters were exciting, at least I thought so. Compared to growing up in Florida, then moving West for those 10 years to experience the changing seasons, may have jaded my memories.

The worst season, believe it or not, was spring. Winter died hard. Spring came and went daily, changing about every 20 minutes or so. You could be at the ballfields practicing your little league baseball team while in shirtsleeves, then 20 minutes later, running to your car for your winter coat as a late winter snowstorm blew in. Then 20 minutes later, it would change again.

It was in those years that I did a lot of walking. An hour or more a day, goaded on by a doctor who said I was overweight, would have a heart attack because of family history, and tossed in high blood pressure for good measure.

“Walk an hour a day,” he prescribed. So I did, in all four seasons. But walking in winter was a special treat, especially in fresh snow. Remember the Marlboro cigarette commercials, with the cowboy on horseback in the dead of winter probably somewhere in snow-blanked Montana? He wore a big heavy tan winter coat with a white puffy collar that looked like sheep’s wool lining. Warm. Really warm looking.

Well, I had one of those coats, plus heavy lined leather gloves, fur-lined hat, heavy boots, and a hankerin’ to get out and walk and walk and walk in the fresh snow. My walking usually was at night, when the temperatures could be in the 10s or teens. But in the West, cold is different. It’s the humidity, or lack thereof. In the West, humidity in winter can be less than 10 percent. Sometimes as low as 5 percent. At that level, cold is invigorating.

Here in Southwest Georgia with high humidity even in January, a walk outside to pick up the morning newspaper, may cause the damp 40-degree air to go clear through to your bones. This week, our local weatherfolks have been predicting morning weekend temperatures in the low 20s, or into the teens.

One morning while in the West, I left the house in my usual light winter jacket, not feeling the cold due to the low humidity. Getting into the truck, I noticed the seat to be unusually rigid, not giving in to any butt weight. The truck was hard to start, then got going, creaking and groaning, making all kinds of unusual crackling and snapping noises.

When I arrived at the newspaper where I worked, I asked the reporter who wrote about the weather, “how cold was it this morning at the airport?”

“Eleven below,” he said.

Only a few months into this new country, just out of Florida, I thought “11 below” was a rare and new experience.

It was desert country, in the valley where we lived, the beginnings of canyonlands, arid and dry in summer, cool in the shade. In winter, the sun was warm if it shone upon you, but hit a shady spot, and it was instant chill. Annual rainfall was about six inches, most of it snow in winter.

But the most lasting impressing of my winter walks was those weekend mornings, when the sun was just about to pop over the canyon rims. There was a sparkle in the air, shimmering and dancing of tiny lights. Ice crystals in the air. One of those rare magical winter moments.

Leave the valley where we lived, drive into the high country, into the ski areas, where snow is hundreds of inches thick, totally submerging summer cabins. Drive cleared mountain roads where snowbanks were higher than the vehicle you were driving, up over the mileage signs. Stop at the lodges for lunch or hot coffee. Shift into four-wheel drive for greater traction and control.

As the CBS hostess said this week, snow in New York City is not to be enjoyed.

But snow in the West is quite different. I could never outgrow it.