As a native Southerner, I associated winter with icy rain, slushy snow, and damp, penetrating cold. So, one late November, when husband Ken and I moved from Memphis to Bay City, Mich., the prospect of a Northern winter daunted me. In an effort to adjust, I started a list of the advantages of a colder, more prolonged winter season.
At first I drew a blank.
Then it occurred to me that the winters here would be drier, which meant my hair wouldn't frizz. OK, I thought, I'm so desperate I'll take items based on vanity. The second entry was similar: Winter clothing covers a multitude of second helpings.
A couple of nights after arriving, I had to wait in my car at one of Bay City's four drawbridges across the Saginaw River. I watched the lights of a long Great Lakes freighter slowly pass between the black rectangles of the raised bridge. I relished the experience - enjoying the grace and majesty of the ship, the drama of the moment - knowing that, from then on, it would just be a nuisance.
This prediction proved accurate; waiting at a drawbridge soon was no more picturesque than stopping for a train. Thus another self-serving item for my list: In the winter, you don't get stopped at a drawbridge for river traffic, because the river freezes over.
Then I added an item prompted by my fondness for the great indoors: In winter, no one is likely to chirp, "Let's eat outside!" And another: no bugs.
My list remained stuck in this rather negative mode until the first snow. We had lived in the St. Louis area for many years, so I'd seen snow. But not like this. The first snow I saw here looked like fine white sand. A relentless wind swirled it into paisley patterns on the streets and swept it into glistening dunes. (The wind also made it seem to be snowing sideways; we've had snowstorms here when I could swear the flakes started to fall in Wisconsin, blew through here, and didn't hit the ground until somewhere around Toronto.)
Now I added the first positive item to my list: Snow is pretty; it makes everything look like a Christmas card. I also added that snow is not as messy as rain - no need for an umbrella; just let it fall on you, then brush it off and stomp.
Then I went with friends to the annual Snow Fest in Frankenmuth, a nearby town modeled after a Bavarian village. There we saw hundreds of sculptures made from ice and snow. By the time we arrived that afternoon, the temperature had soared to minus 4 degrees F.
We found the streets lined with everything from dainty swans made of clear ice to a snow sculpture of a huge buffalo with a woman standing on its back (perhaps one of those "buffalo gals" we used to sing about).
People milled around as they would at a county fair, except for being bundled in parkas, boots, mittens, and ski masks. One display included a snow castle and two nearly life-size knights on horseback jousting with lances - all made of ice.
I'd never seen anything like it. And I wouldn't, either, except during a Northern winter. Another item for my list.
On Groundhog Day, Ken and I had dinner at a rustic restaurant on the edge of a frozen lake. One of the men in our party observed that the groundhog had seen his shadow. "Six more weeks of winter," he moaned. "That's great!" said another man. "It was going to be 10!" I added another item: cold-climate humor.
My list of winter positives grew effortlessly now, but I began to realize that I didn't think much about it anymore. I no longer needed to work at finding something good about winter.
During the following summer - one of the hottest and stickiest I recall, even including those I spent growing up in Little Rock - I caught myself eagerly anticipating winter. That's when I knew I was hooked.
It's been more than nine years since we moved here, and I'm still a fan of the great indoors - I most often enjoy the snow from the other side of a window. And I'm not likely ever to become so acclimated that I would join my neighbors in sitting on the front porch in shorts as soon as the temperature shoots up to 40 degrees. But I now freely admit that I have come to prefer this Michigan winter to summer. I don't look forward to summer the way I once did. In fact, come to think of it, I even dread it a little.
Maybe I'd better get started on a list of the advantages of summer.