Gray and Dreary: Winter Hanging on

This part of the winter season is always kind of a drag. Gray days, gray melting snow, everything is gray. What I have noted, as being particularly sad, are the things that I haven't seen this winter. Admittedly, we had our share of ridiculous cold, but then it has been such a long while since we had a true winter, we have been quite spoiled in our expectations. Our snowfall totals cracked the top five, grand daddy of all winters on record. We had our first real sprinkling of the white stuff before Halloween. Some folks will assert that I am just suffering from cabin fever, and feeling blue over how long the winter has already dragged on, but that simply isn't the case.

As the snow melts, there are lakes of water trapped by the mounds of plowed snow. The snow mounds themselves have been discoloring from car exhaust until they look more like piles of mud. Everything is wall to wall mud during the daylight hours and slick as snot overnight when the temperatures hover at just below the freezing mark. I guess that description would be enough to depress most folks who haven't the ability to pack up and head to Disney World for a brief taste of summer to recharge. But it still doesn't explain why I am feeling somewhat flat about winter and its messy end.

My kids accuse me of being older than dirt, and perhaps that is true. I can remember winters with more snow, and even winters that had more brutally cold days. But that doesn't reflect each and every day of the season, and what is missing from the in between days that ruined my season. Where are the melting snowmen, the snow forts? Where are the hills scarred from thousands of trips down them with sleds and tobaggans? The huge muddy ruts that mark the passage of entire afternoons of sledding are not to be seen. Do kids even own sleds and such any longer? The crumbling remains of snow forts, or the abandoned attempt to create an igloo in the front yard. Have we gone so long without a real winter that we don't remember that it can be fun to be out there in that white stuff? Winter is not just snowblowers and rock salt. I haven't noted the usual articles about the ice sculptures and winter festivals. In recent years, the articles about these events often focused on how mild temperatures made them difficult or impossible. And this year, the ideal conditions exist, but I haven't seen anything to confirm that these festivals still exist.

It occured to me that the demise of the good old snow fort is probably a direct function of a litigious minded society. Imagine Jane's parents taking Mark's parents to court because Jane got popped in the face with a snowball, causing her to lose self esteem, suffer chapped lips, and, the ever popular, mental anguish. In our politically correct world, the good old fashioned neighborhood snow fight is rife with lawsuit possibility. It might be actionable as bullying if the losing side decides to tattle. It could be actionable as disciminatory if the teams were divided into the age old boys versus the girls. And then we have the socio-economic argument that one team might have advantage due to better gloves, warmer boots, and stouter coats and jackets. We have to make sure that all ethnic groups and races are represented on our teams to avoid accusations of racism or cultural bias. It is religious persecution for the Catholic kids to cut loose on the Protestant kids. And how do we determine the percentage of Islamic kids and Jewish kids to allot to each side? You need a United Nations charter to set up such an event. Way too complicated for your average kids.

Then there is the venue. Most public parks have more signage detailing what you may not do than outlining in what activities you might participate. No trespassing signs highlight most of the good sledding hills of days gone by. Probably, once again attributable to owners not wishing to be sued for injuries occuring on their property. While I remember being able to ice skate on ponds (particularly after the extreme sub-zero temps), now all ponds seem to carry signs prohibitting everything from skipping stones to fishing, along with prohibition of swimming, wading, ice skating, and even feeding ducks or geese. Likewise, school parking lots are heavily posted against loitering outside of school hours, but if the gangs cannot congregate, neither can the kids for some healthy exercise and activity along with social interactions which are not electronic.

While I remember the epic battles taking place across two or three front lawns in our neighborhood, subdivision regulations have put paid to that notion. Basically, subdivision regulations purport to protect children from harm, but create rules in which it is impossible to tell what households have children. Bicycles cannot be left outside in the drive, and parents are not permitted to put up swings and playsets in the back. I would imagine, in that context, snow forts and snowmen are also not permitted. Add to that the neighbors, who would be firmly convinced that such activity-even though very limited in nature due to weather conditions-would negatively affect their property value, and the association complaints are being filed before they can roll the first large snowball. As associations often have the ability to dictate what sort of landscaping you may have, there are none of those snowball fight friendly bushes and hedges that we relied on when the snow wasn't packing well enough for a fort or igloo.

And most depressing of all, now, when the snow is melting rapidly, and the only things left are those huge mounds at the ends of driveways and streets, I am not seeing the age old game from every end of winter..."King of the Hill". The goal was nothing more than being able to stay atop the huge mound despite the best efforts of every friend you had trying to dislodge you from that slippery perch, so that they could defend it for themselves. No kids out there, no laughter, no excited squeals, no protests when icy cold snow is stuffed down jackets and snowpants. There are no parents dragging their ruby faced kids home, coated in ice, to be ceremoniously dumped in a warm bath, wrapped in a fluffy towel and filled up with hot cocoa.

Therefore, I assert that the reason everyone has found this winter so trying, so dreary, so gray is that we have lost the soul of winter. We no longer marvel at the sparkle of fresh snow, or the hush that falls on the neighborhood when snow falls. We stopped noticing that even the heaviest travelled roads experience muted traffic noises during a snowstorm. We no longer see it as a unique recreational possibility. After years of listening to the ski resort areas complain about a lack of cold and snow, I haven't even heard as single advertisement for the ski resorts and the activities available. So, before the last bit of snow is gone, make a resolution to make and throw at least one good snowball. Promise that you will at least slide in the slush along the curb. Get up on top of that snow mound and dare somebody to get you off. And hope that before we turn the corner into spring, you get one last chance to appreciate the wonderous silence of falling snow and capture at least a few flakes on the tip of your tongue. Restore your wonder, and perhaps winter won't be so trying.

Filed under: Musings

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