Winter’s Nostalgic Permeance

There is something tender in the cold days of winter that latches onto your bones and carries on you like a worn coat from winter to winter as you grow, change, move, and adapt to new environments, and yet flares up like an old injury when the temperature drops in those early months of the year to remind you of its presence. It comes out in different forms for different people, some rejoice and abscond to mountains to propel themselves down snowy hills, others find inspiration while indoors to clean out their homes and upgrade areas that they no longer can stand since they’ve been forced to face it day in and out while it’s too cold to be outside. For me, it’s a surge of emotion and nostalgia.

My clearest recollection of little moments of travel come in the coldest of winter months. When the air burns my throat and makes my eyes water, I think of the joy of a warm summer sun as I lay beside a lake and hear the lapping of the water whilst closing my eyes. When the skin of my hands crack and show red craters of angry flesh and my nose bleeds due to the dry air, I am suddenly surrounded by the wet, soggy air of New Orleans in late May with a cold, sweating drink in one hand and the shrill sounds of a trumpet playing from a street corner filling the air.

This January, we had a forty-degree plunge in temperature a week after our first significant snowfall. If the snow and ice had not locked me securely in the head space for winter, the cold front stabilized my stay. Old tendencies come back so easily on windy, cold nights such as these. Recollection of the little home I grew up in with its faulty furnace system and the wood stove that, while providing a great amount of heat, only reached the first half of the house and never the bedrooms. As the sun would begin to set we would go from room to room, twisting the blinds close and ensuring the curtains were tightly covering the windows. In the summer months, when the temperatures would go in the opposite direction and blast into the triple digits, we did the opposite method. Blinds and curtains would be in place during the daylight hours to block out the heat and sun, only to be pulled back at sunset to let in the cooling air through open windows.

But there often would be no open windows in the winter. We would roll up towels to place in front of the doors to prevent any draft that dared to consider entering our home and we rarely went outside and not at all if we could manage it until the temperatures inched back up over freezing.

This slow process to maintain some warmth other than our own body heat latched onto me as a child and traveled along. I taught my college roommate the trick when our dorm had no heat one cold night as we stood on our desk and used tape to secure a spare bed sheet over our window and AC unit, and years later I made the rounds with my husband as the sun settled behind the trees to ensure we kept our little, top-floor apartment as warm as possible while the wind howled.

But this isn’t the only remnant of childhood that awakens and persists in winter months. When winter never seemed capable of ending and we still had deep snow in March, I would go outside into the sunshine and feel it warm on my skin, despite that the air was frigid, and find a place in my yard that was fully in the sun, but blocked the wind. There I laid in my black snowsuit with my face to the sky to breathe in the fresh air and feel myself warm up as the sun beat down. Then, I would go up against our house where the sun and heat of the home had melted away some of the snow and begin to brush it away by hand. One scoop, then another, until just a scattering of ice crystals remained on the surprisingly green grass that had just been buried a moment before. I would marvel at this grass, despite generally ignoring its existence the rest of the seasons, as it was such a different color as what I had grown used to after the first snow came and buried away all brightness of our world.

I began to daydream of far off places during these winter months when I was desperate for a change. As I got older, it compelled me to write stories of girls just like me traveling to these destinations and experiencing life altering events. That continued well into my teens as hormones created an all-time angst that didn’t only happen towards the end of winter but through the summer months as well. Stories fueled by the desire to escape and explore and behold the wonders and colors of the world rather than the gray landscape I was trapped in.

But then something miraculous happened—I began to travel. It was small at first, little trips by car to one place or another, but seeing a different location and experiencing it fully stuck with me. The scent of the ocean, the feel of the sand, the waves and seagulls, and the little lighthouse far away. The seafood and sunburnt snowbirds who had returned once more, the beach shops that had all of the same merchandise yet it was all somewhat different. And when winter would descend upon my world and I made my passage from one window to the next, ensuring we didn’t have any cold air slipping into our home, I daydreamed of these new locations and my dreams have only expanded as I’ve traveled all the more.

It’s always a hodgepodge of memories that come flooding back, you can never know what may trigger a memory or how simple the memory may be. Of course, memories of greater things, such as the Tunnel View of Yosemite, or the Three Sisters in the Highlands of Scotland will flit through my mind through the year. These magnificent beasts of land that end up on posters and postcards alike. Those memories come back regularly but in January and February days, it’s smaller moments. Finding pine cones longer than my hand in the quiet California woods where, for the first time I could recall since the flight ban of September 11, 2001, I could not hear a single aircraft. Or perhaps the way the wind pulled at my husband’s shirt as he leaned forward with both hands grasping our camera as he focused the lens to photograph a spot on the steep cliffs in Scotland that had caught his interest.

Each winter it’s another reflection, another memory, and if I think long enough I can see why I may be thinking of that particular location. The clink of a spoon in a coffee mug in a wee cafe in Stockbridge as I grip a cup of tea to warm my hands on a chilly winter morning; the sand burning the bottom of my feet in Florida when I feel most cold; the creaking of the swing as my husband and I slowly drifted back and forth at the lake side of Ithaca, with his hand gently cradling my barely-showing stomach, as I feel my son kicking inside me whilst I waddle through the windy streets to my job; or perhaps the wonder and magic of arriving the cramped, old buildings of Bath when I am desiring something new and exciting.

Those giant memories of mountains and oceans and cities are on hand through the rest of the year, but it’s winter and those cold, frozen days that unleash the nostalgia from my bones to let it pump through my body and to my brain, dazzling my thoughts even as I close the curtains to block out the winter’s night.

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