Winter never quite delivers on its promises of hibernation

November 04, 2001|By Susan Reimer

WINTER IS COMING, and I know just what it will look like when it arrives.

Snow is scarce here in the Mid-Atlantic states, though when it comes, it comes with a fury. So there will be few picturesque snowscapes out my window. Instead, those windows will rattle with the wind that sweeps up the hill toward my house and crackle with the sound of sleet.

By 4 p.m., the streetlights will blink on in the quickening dark, and their yellow glow will color the puddles in the street. Cars will splash through those puddles, shattering their mirrored surfaces and carrying neighbors home to the warm, dry familiarity of the family kitchen.

I will have a fire going, and a glass of wine, and, as dinner percolates, I will take up the cross-stitch or the gardening book that I was too busy for in the summer.

About that time, the kids will clatter home, rosy-cheeked, rosy-nosed, and starving after some kind of sports practice, chasing the peace and quiet with their clomping feet and falling backpacks and noisy bickering.

On weekends, the fireplace will roar and snap continually, and I will use the days without yard work to sort photographs or my gardening notes, to read a mystery, cook a special supper or nap. Even now, I can hear the music I will play.

That is how I imagine the coming winter will be, and that is all it is: my imaginary winter.

The truth of it is, I find the rainy winters of the Mid-Atlantic states to be numbingly depressing, and my children never arrive home at the same time for dinner. And I am never home waiting for them because I am always running after one of them.

And dinner doesn't percolate off-stage. It comes out of a drive-through window or a gymnasium concession stand.

The truth is, I don't read, sleep, cook or gather wool in the winter any more than I do in the spring, summer or fall. I am just as busy and the weather is foul on top of it, adding a layer of crankiness to me that is like ice on a pond.

A recent copy of the magazine Real Simple featured a cozy picture of a woman napping on a couch. It was beautifully composed in the earth tones that told the reader this was a rainy fall afternoon.

When I saw it, I did not know whether to weep or throw it in the fireplace (where no fire has burned since the kids were in footed sleepers. There is plenty of wood, just no time).

For most of us, winter is not the Big Sleep, it is the Enduring Trial. We do not hibernate, we soldier through. In the era of the New Cocooning, which is what they are calling things after Sept. 11, many of us will have no more time at home with family unless a blizzard cripples the East Coast.

I blame sports.

I could blame Scouts, or the Drama Club or piano lessons or church youth group, because they have a part in this, too. But mostly, I blame sports.

There are no fewer practices or games to be played just because Mom would rather be at home in front of a fire or cooking up a batch of soup.

In fact, if I am not mistaken, there are more of both and they last longer. (Ever attend a weekend wrestling tournament? By the end, everything, including the food you are eating because you are bored, smells like dirty socks.)

The quiet rejuvenation, the healing dormancy that the garden enjoys during this time is denied us humans. The simple meals with family and friends, the coziness of flannel shirts and rag wool socks, the cuddling and the snoozing, the catching-up and the thinking through -- winter holds the promise of these things, but never seems to deliver.

Perhaps it is not winter's fault. Perhaps it is the season of our lives, not the season of the year, that is too chaotic for pulling back or turning inward.

Perhaps it is not this winter, but some winter in my future, that I am conjuring.

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