Deprived of Winter's Rigors, A Writer Is Tempted Outdoors

I count on winter to be miserable. Days so gloomy and dreary that hours spent reading in a chair pose the only acceptable activity.

When does a strawberry taste as good as it does on the pages of a garden catalog in mid-January? When does a tulip look as beautiful?

Here in the Northeast, the dull gray days of deep winter have a way of making colors not just look bright and bold but feel red and blue and seep into one's very being.

Bleak and blustery days are best. Subzero temperatures and barely-passable roads naturally turn thoughts toward the fire, the afghan, curling up on the couch, and sourdough rising by the wood stove. Sourdough is winter, just as popsicles are summer.

The real beauty of winter is that it is ugly enough to relieve us of the irresistible draw of gazing endlessly at the glorious blaze of fall or the majesty of spring or to jolt us out of the warm sleepy summer.

But this winter presents a particular challenge to the sensibilities of anyone dependent on the bleak, the frozen, and the gray for reading, baking, and garden planning. Record warm temperatures have sent New Englanders to the beach in Massachusetts and have given them a rare opportunity to walk in the woods in T-shirts without sheets of bugs around.

Even though I have worried about the premature blooming of my daffodils, I have persevered with the sourdough, baking when it was 60 degrees in January. I have swooned over the pictures of strawberries in the garden catalogs, even though I could see the plants themselves outside in their beds. I have managed to read but couldn't resist the thrill of taking a walk in the woods sans bugs or snow on the ground.

This winter is making it tough to get anything done. As a freelance writer, I'd been looking forward to about three months of the rough and the raw so I wouldn't be tempted to do anything but write. My cross-country skis stand in the kitchen corner, used once so far; my thermal underwear sags over a rocking chair, having been donned only for a day.

These things I can handle. But a winter that is spring just makes me want to be outside looking at plants, and right now I'd rather be dreaming about them, anticipating their arrival, and imagining how grand thick patches of poppies will be.

Forbidding weather gives us the strength to brave the cold, so that when a clammy spring arrives, a cloudy 40-degree day seems like just cause for leaping and praising. Winter is the time to be snowed in occasionally with plenty of food and wood, unable to escape or to do anything but write and read and think. It's the time when everything slows down, or at least seems to, and there is space to ponder, to mull, to learn how to quilt.

These are the true joys of winter.

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