GHENT, N.Y. — I’ve heard rumors that there are New Yorkers and New Englanders in my approximate demographic who spend their winters in places like Florida.
I suppose I can understand the impulse because, as you read this, I’ll hopefully be in the British Virgin Islands. But a winter week in warm weather, two max, doesn’t make me a snowbird, or those who migrate south for the winter.
I know it’s unfair, for all I know there may even be a bit of envy involved, but as far as I’m concerned those who desert the Northeast as soon as the temperature plummets are sissies. Anybody can appreciate the glory of this part of the country come late spring, into the summer and early fall. But you don’t deserve to call yourself a full-timer unless you can survive our winters.
I’m wrong to frame the issue in a negative light. I suppose I also ought to stipulate that I’m speaking only for myself, but it seems to me that the reason you choose to locate in this part of the country — or any part of the United States apart from economic considerations — is that you’re drawn to its specific beauty and benefits. I can certainly understand the allure of Southern California; the otherworldly beauty of the American southwest; the Rockies; and even Florida.
Though I haven’t been back to Florida since an unfortunate vacation with my college girlfriend spring break sophomore year. We weren’t getting along. But that was so long ago that we were forced to register at the motel where we were staying as husband and wife. My assumption is that that’s no longer the case, though in Ron DeSantis’s Florida who knows.
But why choose to live here in the first place if you’re only willing to experience three out of its four seasons? Winter possesses its own particular majesty. Mud season I don’t know. But winter yes.
And apart from the snow, which we seem to be getting less of all the time — the recent nor’easter the exception to the rule — there’s a particular contentment that comes from gathering around the fireplace when the weather is hostile, the experience embellished by a good book and a glass of wine or tumbler of scotch.
It makes us turn in upon ourselves in a good way. Especially if the family has gathered. It blocks out the rest of the world and makes you focus on more primal, even feral pleasures — warmth, companionship, the light show of a roaring fire.
I’m not sure my wife would entirely agree. She gets more profoundly cold than I do, particularly this winter when we’ve lowered the thermostats as the cost of oil has soared. There must be a direct correlation between age, aches and pains and the desire to expose one’s body to plentiful ultraviolet rays.
I get it. For me there’s no more blissful moment than those early seconds you disembark from the plane at your warm weather destination and feel the first caresses of tropical breeze. You can actually sense your body relax and your pores open, your very capillaries exhale. It’s only then that you realize how much tension you were holding to retain warmth.
But part of what makes the experience precious is that it’s time-limited. Were you to spend the entire winter in the likes of Florida, utterly apart from whether you consider Florida a serious state, you probably become blasé.
A New England winter when I can’t get away at all is a bleak winter. I feel like Ethan Frome, though if you haven’t read the book since high school, or in my case the CliffsNotes, I strongly suggest you give it a try. One of the most amorous, sensual scenes in all of American literature occurs when Ethan’s stingy, complaining wife, Zenobia, leaves Ethan alone at home with her radiant younger cousin Mattie while she spends the night in town attending to her medical complaints.
Speaking of the advantages of hearth and home, the romance sparked between the pair burns like the embers in the wood stove they’ve gathered around. Rendered by Edith Wharton in telling tiny detail, the scene and its fateful chemistry would been impossible anywhere but a cold weather climate while the world is kept at bay. Flirting over pina coladas at a tiki bar just wouldn’t have had the same impact.
I’d also argue that if you’re away only for a week, as we are, those minutes and hours abroad become all the more precious. It’s sort of like Ethan and Mattie knowing that Zenobia will be returning from town the next morning. The time you spend in the sun benefits by the contrast to the real life you’ve left behind.
We were scheduled to go to New York City the Monday of the nor’easter. But it seemed a pity to miss the first real snow of the season so we canceled appointments and stayed. There’s a particular excitement to a coming snowstorm as you provision and hunker down, stacking wood and hoping you won’t lose power.
Sleep also seems better and deeper knowing you’re safe and warm as the storm rages outside. There’s much to be said for going south. But much is also lost. Each of us has to do a cost/benefit analysis. I’ve done mine. A short break from the cold is a privilege. What makes it profound is knowing winter and the first buds of spring await your return.