A good word for winter

Skiers, children, and penguins suffer winter gladly. The rest of us divide rather neatly into two groups: those who dislike the season but stay, and those who dislike it and leave.

William C. Rogers, a University of Minnesota professor who can look cheerful right down to 20-below, wants to recruit a third constituency of winter-copers: people who stay north and love it. Well, likem it, at least.

With the help of Jeanne K. Hanson, a member of the university's news department, Dr. Rogers has spelled out his manifesto in "The Winter City Book: A Survival Guide for the Frost Belt" (Edina, Minn.: Dorn Books, $6.95).

In person and in print, Dr. Rogers and Mrs. Hanson plug the motto, "Things can be done" -- if only we will stop ignoring "our longest season." We must change our attitudes toward winter, they argue, or the whole 'frost belt' will flee to the Sunbelt.

Dr. Rogers, whose specialty happens to be international relations, is, like Mrs. Hanson, married to a Scandinavian, and he tends to feel that Europeans know how to manage winter better than Americans.

Copenhagen, he points out, tests models of new buildings in wind tunnels to avoid downtown wind canyons. Reykjavik, Iceland, limits most buildings to four stories, avoiding long shadows on dark winter days. And a glass-roofed Siberian structure houses 1,000 people and includes a school, theater, and sports arena.

The buildings in Stockholm, Dr. Rogers continues, are "really cozy, all scrunched in together," seldom more than three stories high if they're for housing. Side by side, with pitched roofs and courtyards, Stockholm buildings are designed as windbreakers.

By contrast, Dr. Rogers and Mrs. Hanson lament the "monolithic appearance" of North America. The skyline of Calgary, Alberta, they observe, is virtually indistinguishable from the skyline of Dallas. Noting a 100-degree temperature variation in the United States on one recent winter day, Dr. Rogers says, "You'd think with that variety in climate you'd have more difference in architecture." He highly endorses the glassed- in skyways of Minneapolis.

Along with a "truly northern architecture," Dr. Rogers fantasizes a distinctive northern fashion. Again Europe is his role model.

"When European statesmen lined up for photographs at a summit meeting," he notes, "only Carter and Mrs. Thatcher were wearing single-breasted suits."

Dr. Rogers loves the double-breasted suit as an anti-winter agent. But he admits: "I've talked to fashion people and tried to encourage a comeback for the double- breasted suit. It flopped."

Undaunted, he has turned to promoting deerstalker caps and colored overcoats -- anything to make you look like you're having fun while you're flying a kite or building a "snowperson" -- two more of Dr. Rogers's minor fancies.

Among other Rogers and Hanson winter- enhancing suggestions, ranging from the serious to the trivial:

* Plant some evergreens. Dr. Rogers refers to them poetically as the "palm trees of the north." His faith in the morale-lifting effect of a well-needled evergreen has earned him the nickname of William the Conifer.

* Go for color. Buildings in Helsinki's Old Town were sun-colored, the authors report, and popular house colors in Colonial times included Saxon gold, brick red, and Cape Cod green. Why, they ask, do we now settle for the bleakness of white houses and steel-and-glass skyscrapers?

* Listen to a weather announcer who doesn't specialize in "exuberant gloom." "Forecasters hype the weather," Mrs. Hanson charges. "They just exaggerate, and this makes the level of recreational griping go way up in winter."

* Grab a shovel. "When I was pregnant I was terrified of sidewalks," she confesses. "I became an instant old person. We need to do a better job of clearing sidewalks."

* Find somethingm to like about the season. Taking a cue from the book's chapter subheadings, tell yourself: "Snow is beautiful." "Ice is, too." "We need to emphasize the cheer," the authors add.

* If all else fails, bad-mouth summer the way other people bad-mouth winter. "My summer project is battling mosquitoes," Dr. Rogers claims. "Minneapolis-St. Paul is the mosquito capital of the US." As a final clincher he adds: "Eskimos hate the summer. The terrain melts, and they can't move around. Everything becomes a giant bog."

The Good Winter is a kind of vision to Dr. Rogers. He sees idyllic scenes -- vendors selling hot cider and pretzels on street corners, under warmly colored outdoor murals, next to fire hydrants converted to "sculptures to rival Calder's."

An ongoing winter carnival is the general idea.

Few readers will fail to find "The Winter City Book" an aid and a comfort. Fewer still will find it a sufficient grounds to postpone spring.

It was always so. In an essay titled "A Good Word for Winter," written out of the cold heart of a New England winter a century ago, the poet James Russell Lowell listed for almost 30 pages the attractions of the season. The "Quaker purity" of a winter landscape. The dazzle of sun on snow crust. The breathtaking clarity of the moon in a winter sky. The "silence of a winter night."

But as he arrives at the last paragraph of his little prose ode, Lowell cannot help shivering out the most popular words of winter: "Let us get within doors."

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