It snowed today, for the first time. October 6th.
When my family moved to southeast Idaho, we knew that Winter was one of the by-products we were choosing. That €œW € is capitalized, because winters here are real winters €”you couldn’t survive without shelter. In Utah Valley, where we’ve lived the last ten years, you likely couldn’t either, easily €¦ but there’d be a chance. Some random steaming garbage pile might keep you warm at nights if you found yourself homeless.
Not here. We now live in Idaho’s Siberia. You’d think that, farther north in places like Sandpoint, it would be much colder, but no. The carryover from Washington state’s more temperate coastal climates makes the panhandle and other, more northern places a much easier place to grow things like tomatoes, for instance.
Here in Idaho’s Siberia there are miles of landmass and ridges of mountains to keep us from any friendly ocean breezes. In January it dips down toward negative twenty. And the winds are to be reckoned with €”tearing in from the southwest, lifting sod off the fields before the ground freezes, withering the branches of any non-hardy fruit tree.
You plant your Polly peaches northeast of your house, here in southeast Idaho. The Honeycrisp apples and sour pie-cherries and, perhaps, the pears and plums might survive (all these are currently imaginary €”a vision dancing in husband’s head and mine.) But not the peaches.
Our new home is hyper-insulated. Six-to-ten inches of polyurethane foam keep the elements away, and our body heat, so far, has been enough to keep us toasty and warm, even at that lethal six-o-clock hour when bare feet hit concrete floors and children shiver through showers. But it’s coming. I know it is. My Viking blood is waking up, warning me, prompting me to drag out the giant tupperwares full of snow rompers and wool socks and mittens and hats and thermal underclothing.
We have neighbors close by who warned me that the key to life in our new little city is to €œlive it up in the summers and fall. Take every second you can and enjoy them €¦ because when winter hits, everyone shuts themselves indoors. You don’t see anybody. And it drags on so long €¦ the snow. The cold. The isolation. €
I asked him, don’t you go out to play in the snow.
He shrugged. €œYeah. But it gets so cold. Cross-country skiing and sledding just aren’t fun in below-freezing weather. €
Of course, he’s part Samoan and part Jamaican €”he’s not used to this. Well, neither am I; I grew up in Northern California. But my Viking ancestors will jeer at me from the other side of the veil this winter if I don’t make the attempt €¦
Winter and I are going to be friends. I’m determined.
So this morning when the first snow started slanting down, soaking our alfalfa field and bringing out the sweetness of it’s purple smell and swelling the gutters with puddles, I shook it off. I piled coats on my kids, snapped the baby into her fleece bear-hoodie and we walked to our homeschool co-op.
On the way home, two of my children slogged through a puddle. They were chattering by the time we got home and whimpering a bit. They will learn about winter, that the friendship has boundaries.
I fed my kids lunch and made my year’s first pan of cottage-friend potatoes, the most wintery of foods. My husband came home from work tonight and spent eight hours prying the lid off the boiler that heats our house and examining the rusty innards. I sense already that his friendship with winter will involve more of a wary respect. And I admit I’m nervous. For me, friendships can be awkward at first. I get overwhelmed. I have my moments of despair: Did I say the right thing? Did I do something that revealed too much of my vulnerability, too soon?
Today I watch the snow fall through the big French doors and the windows that look south, east and north from our kitchen/dining room. I pretend nonchalance and think of the flakes as gifts. I allow the excitement to well up inside me at the prospect of four-foot drifts, of building a sled hill in the backyard, of cross-country skiing on the groomed trail by the icy-jade river that runs through our town. Of family snowball fights and cozy evenings cuddled around a TV screen watching movies that aren’t too scary but are scary enough to send my five year old shuffling to our room in the middle of the night, asking to be kissed and tucked back in.
We chose winter, and so winter will be a highlight of our year. We will make friends with winter. I’m determined.
Sarah Dunster is an award-winning poet and fiction writer. Her poems have been published in Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, Segullah Magazine, and Victorian Violet Press. Her short fiction piece, Back North, is featured in Segullah’s Fall 2011 issue. In addition, Sarah’s first novel Lightning Tree will be released in spring of 2012 by Cedar Fort. Sarah has six children and one on the way and loves writing almost as much as she loves being a mom.