Winter of Wither
By Ben McCanna
Created Jan 18 2008 - 6:31am
Eight years ago, my brother-in-law bought me a SAD lamp. Word had gotten out that the months-long veil of gray over Seattle had put the zap on my head. The clouds that blew off the Pacific in September had hovered unwaveringly in the airspace above my basement apartment, and by New Year's Day, I was debilitated. When my birthday arrived in mid-January, David sensed an opportunity; he showed up on my doorstep with the happy lamp and a houseplant. David's official line was the lamp was for the plant, but it was obvious from the packaging that its photons were meant for me.
The lamp was free-standing. It was meant to inhabit a corner and throw a wide arc of happy light indiscriminately across the room, but I preferred to cradle it in my lap nightly, press my face against its glass, and absorb its caged sunshine at point-blank range.
I can't say the light improved my mood, but it improved my energy enough to pack our things and ditch the drab PNW for the sunny shores of NYC.
After a few good years in New York, a job offer materialized in Rockport, Maine. Before accepting, I took a moment's pause to consider winter. I'd learned a hard lesson in Seattle, and I didn't want to get schooled again.
I decided, however, that the circumstances in Maine would be different. Sure, the weather would be harsher than Seattle, but there would be more sunny days. More importantly, Camden had hiking and skiing within a few minutes' drive - a vast improvement over the endless morass of interstates out west. We packed our things and moved once more.
The gambit worked. Season passes at the Camden Snow Bowl kept the sun over our heads and fresh air in our lungs. We were happy. We felt like we'd won the lottery. Every winter's day when I left the office to ski a few runs during lunch, I'd pat myself on the back for my good fortune. And whether the snow was good or bad, I'd admire the view of the deep-blue bay and make self-congratulatory small talk with any poor soul who was stuck on the lift with me.
"How lucky we are," I'd say.
But this winter is different. My wife and I are new parents and we're housebound.
I'm not complaining. Our son is a huge source of joy in our lives, and I wouldn't trade him for a lifetime of sunny days, but this winter ain't easy.
Each workday is bookended by the long pall of night, and in the hours between, I stare at a computer monitor while the sun sinks lower out the window behind me.
During lunch, I think about skiing. This season we'd decided against ski passes. We knew we'd have our hands full with the baby; plus, on the October day Jennifer went into labor, we spotted a pure orange woolly bear - a sure sign of a mild winter. I remember thinking, "Hah! Let it be mild! I can't go skiing this winter anyway!" Alas, it's only mid-January and this winter has already been one for the record books. The snow's been flying, the Snow Bowl is buried, and I'm withering under the dull glow of office lighting.
The snow itself - once a harbinger of good times - has become a jailer. Each week seems to bring a new blanket of white that further obscures the sidewalks and makes after-dinner strolls treacherous. Plus, bundling our little kid to trudge into sub-freezing darkness would surely raise suspicions at the Department of Child Protective Services.
So, we stay indoors. These days, it seems I only leave the house to drive to work, or to shovel yet another stratum of snow from my driveway.
Last Monday another nor'easter pummeled the coast. From my dining room window, I watched the storm roll in, and I fogged the glass with a series of muttered curse words. Late in the evening, when the storm finally subsided, I laced up my boots, stomped outside, and began shoveling.
With each shovel load, I asked myself why. Why do we do this? Why do we live on this frozen tundra? Why do we live where the sun sets at 4:25 and rises well after alarm rings? Why do we live in a climate that's inhospitable to infants? What's the payoff?
When I finally cleared a path to the street, I leaned against my snow shovel, wiped the sweat from my brow, and watched as clouds of frozen breath billowed from my mouth in exhausted huffs.
Between the wheeze of respiration, I heard a new sound-whistling. Out of the darkness, I saw figures approaching. It was a family of four. A young mom and dad each pulled a sled down the center of the snow-filled street, and in each sled sat a beaming, elementary school-aged child. The whole family whistled with conviction. Their melody slipped in and out of key, but the message was clear.
A beautiful sight,
We're happy tonight,
Walking in a winter wonderland.
I nodded silently as the family whistled past, then I turned back to my house and looked up toward the dimly lit nursery on the second floor.
This too shall pass.
Ben McCanna is Editing Manager for a publisher of how-to books on sailing and outdoor sports. He lives with his wife and son in a fixer-upper in SoRo.