Winter is the ugliest season here. It raises the inherent drabness and defeat up everywhere, like a necromancer conjuring spirits from cursed earth.
I have a piece sitting in the Drafts folder that is titled “Winter Hands.”
Last winter came so suddenly: falling like a curtain at the end of October. Not the worst winter we’ve had, but a bitter one, bitterly cold.
When it snows heavily, and you’re driving down the freeway at night, underneath the streetlamps’ orange toxicity the falling snow looks like dust, and the growing drifts look like mounds of dust. And look, in the runnels on the road where the heated turn of drivers’ tires have whipped the snow down to slush, grime gathers.
In the big parking lots at Wal-Mart they push the snow up into giant mounds around a distant light pole. The snow turns pockmarked and gray, and black at certain extremities.
At Sunny Lake the frozen lake is glaucomic. It looks blearily up at the eyeless sky. The trees are all dead, but sometimes their branches are sleeved in snow; sometimes it falls off onto the ground below, where its cold and damp will disintegrate the fallen leaves beneath into meal.
The sun is an absurd recluse. It peeks out from its high windows only occasionally, like a fretting hypochondriac.
There are cold snaps, and stretches of lancing frigidity where time itself seems frozen. Each day seems identical to the one before, and is only turned over laborously, like a page in a baleful grimoire.
The absurd rush of frustration that fills your heart when you slip on some unseen patch of ice; the absolute wordless fury of losing control, even in this minor way.
The winter nights: wicked, fickle, unpredictable. Temperatures can drop 20 degrees in a couple hours, turning a chilly rain into an all-enveloping ice storm, a wet white fury that covers every inch and seam of your car and everything else exposed in a sheath of knubbled ice, so that you have to hack away at it with the scraper side of your snowbrush just to get inside and start the engine, which chokes and splutters, stunned, before turning over.
If you have to park outside sometimes your car’s battery will die silently in the middle of the night, drained from the cold.
If the sun does come out, the places where the snow is left undisturbed sparkle like they’ve been strewn with jewels. When shadows fall on sunbrightened snow they turn blue.
Harsh cold that runs inside your coat and reaches through your skin to find your bones, and lingers like remorse; you sit on your one hand as you’re driving, shivering. It takes as much time to warm up as it does to get where you’re going, so that every small jaunt is an inhospitable journey.
The puddles of water that gather around your shoes inside, where the rind of snow melts off them. The mat in front of the door is soaked through the whole season and wheezes like a sponge when you step on it.
The strange spates of mild weather that break up one gauntlet of frigidity from another. Then, the snow melts away. Underneath the dead and matted grass the ground is soft, and muddy and sucking where it’s lower down and the moisture can collect.
The particular texture of natural light inside the house on a cloudy winter day. The heaviness of it, the shadows up in the corners of the room like cobwebs.
Heavy clouds, their outlines bleached away by some untraceable winter light; the sky one massive welded sheet of base metal.
The heckling sub-sonic sensation when a strong wind drives the snow at you vertically, making you blink over and over again.
Muttered imprecations against the ugliness of the weather, this town, this misbegotten state.
Looking through the window at night to see if it’s snowing: checking to see if the falling flecks can be seen in the glow of the side lights of the house across the road.
A bundled stranger laboring over his widemouthed gawping shovel, breathing wetly into a balaclava, pushing the snow down off his driveway; the scraping sound of the shovel lip glancing occasionally off the driveway cement where it makes it through the snow.
Early winter evening, where everything seems submerged, aquatic; the trees waver, glistening wet-black like fronds of seaweed. You have an acute awareness of the separateness of each sound from every other sound, and of an icebound duty in each thing to stand separate from all other things; an all-pervading disbelief in harmony.
Routine thrives, the particular routine that comes from deciding not to do things, to remain as inert as possible.
Gray the only color everywhere you look, each vista cluttered with a thousand shades of gray, stacked on top of one another: gray road, gray houses, gray trees, gray sky, gray snow threading down in monotone.
Wet cuffs of jeans, wet socks.
This absurd commitment to matching the ‘feel’ of what you’re reading to the feel of the season.
Parents with their kids on the steep short hill at Sunny Lake, walking laboriously up the staircase to the top, a round plastic sled in one hand, their child’s hand in the other.
Near the base of the hill is a fire pit. It goes mostly unused in the summer. In the winter the interior is dark and wet and glistening like the throat of a well.