But me? I absolutely *love* the winter. If I had my way, I would live somewhere up in Maine or the frozen wilds of Canada, even. As far away from people as possible. I'm a recluse like that. Also, I find that the cold weather has this habit of civilizing people to the point where they behave like normal human beings. I suppose this comes from living in New York City all my life. Especially in the congested urban blight that is the Bronx where I grew up, where people practically live on top of each other and crime, as a result, is rampant. The only time this place gets decent is when the temps dip below freezing. Then everyone stays the hell indoors and learn to mind their business. Trust me, no one starts trouble around here in the months of January through March. It's glorious!
I was reminded of this very fact tonight as I was walking home. I took a shortcut through the city park across the street from my building, and not a single soul was out. I had the entire park to myself! The trees were bare and ghostly all around me--the air so crisp--and I could hear my own footfalls echo across the expanse. It was surreal, and even beautiful if you can believe it. And the biting cold just made me feel so ALIVE! This is why I love winter, I thought. This right here. When else do you get to be so alone and feel so great smack dab in the middle of the South Bronx?
|The park, devoid of less hearty souls than I! (Yankee Stadium in the background)|
Summer time is horrendous here. In the months of July and August, that same park has literally 80 - 120 people at all times just loitering about, talking late into the morning hours, playing craps and dominoes, shooting off firearms at random moments (yes, this DOES happen), and just generally making the park an unpleasant place to walk through.
But not now. Now, when the temps are in the low 20s F, and the windchill is in the single digits, the neighborhood is calm and at peace. And I find my mood reflecting that.
Like my friend GYSC, I have my own winter tale of caution to tell as well. When you read it, you'll wonder how I could ever love the season as much as I do.
See, I was in the Boy Scouts once. Rose all the way to the rank of Scout First Class before finally quitting around the age of 15. But this one time when I was 13, my troop decided to go camping in the woods in the middle of January. Yes, that's right: JANUARY! It was to attend some Scouts version of the winter Olympics, by which a bunch of local troops gather in the woods and compete at various skill-based competitions. First Aid and Rescue, Knot Tying, Shelter Building, Snow-Shoe Assembly (oh yes), Map & Compass use, and even Tracking. We sign up and participate in all these events in the attempt to earn our relevant merit badges.
Sounds great, right? Except, we were all kids from the inner-city ghetto. We didn't know shit about tracking through the woods. WTF? Still, our little Bronx troop of misfits tried our best. We didn't win anything, but at least we tried.
Here's where things get interesting, though. See, we had to set up our own lodging of course. Which meant constructing lean-tos and unrolling our sleeping bags inside them. Plain and simple. Problem is, I came woefully ill-equipped for that last part. Whereas everyone else somehow had these specially insulated winter sleeping bags--or "mummy bags" as we called them--I could only afford the thin, warm weather variety. My friends nicknamed it a "desert bag," since the desert is probably the only place such a pathetic excuse of a sleeping bag might work.
I've never been so cold in all my life! And to make matters worse, on that first night it started to snow. And continued snowing. By the time morning came around, we were all buried under 8 inches of snow! Yes, here we were in the middle of the woods in New Jersey while a damn blizzard was raging around us. We accumulate around 4 more inches before noon when the storm finally stopped. I don't think I ever once stepped out of my full winter gear, even to use the latrine. Hell, I even slept in my coat and mountain boots!
We managed to still have fun, though. That's what I remember the most. The bunch of us collecting firewood, running through drifts of snow, playing capture the flag and king of the mountain. I busted my knee slipping on a covered boulder while running through the woods once, but for some reason I got right back up and continued to chase after the rest of the troop. It really was like we were the Lost Boys out there.
But by the time the weekend came to a close, I was feeling the pain. Not even my glove warmers were doing the trick anymore. And I was wearing two pairs! I remember the troop packing up and hiking the long trail back down to the Ranger's station and parking lot. We stumbled along like zombies, none us able to feel our toes. And carrying all that gear on our backs sucked!
But then we made it, and I remember having a hot chocolate at the trading post while waiting for my aunt to come pick me up. Yes, we were too poor of a troop to afford organized transportation even. But somehow that only made the experience more endearing. When I came home, I took the longest, most decadent hot bubble bath of my life! I soaked in the tub for HOURS, submerged up to my nose, and still the warmth didn't seem to reach my bones. After continuing to run the hot water from the faucet for a while, it finally happened. But damn if I'll never forget that feeling of everlasting cold. BRRRRRR!
Yet despite all that, I loved it! I tell you right now I would do it all over again. I think something happened that weekend out there in the barren woods. For, from that moment on, I was always impervious to the cold. When I went away to Vermont for college, I would develop an even higher tolerance for the cold. Nowadays, no matter how cold it gets here in the city, it can never ever be THAT cold. This is nothing. I can do temps in the teens and twenties in my sleep. Ho-hum!
That all being said, I find myself thinking the impossible lately. I find myself contemplating taking a vacation to the Bahamas later this month. I know it won't really happen, but I can hope. My wife and I have this one perfect little island we like to go to there, and right about now it sounds just about DIVINE. Not because I need to escape the cold, but because I've never taken a beach holiday in the winter. Every time we go to the Caribbean, or some other near tropical locale, it always seems to be in the summer time. For once I would like to experience the novelty of getting on the plane where it's below freezing, and getting off where the people are wearing shorts and t-shirts and sipping mai-tais. :)
Sounds nice, doesn't it? Maybe we might do just that!