Friday, December 08, 2006

Winter Wasteland

It's official. Winter is here and I am hating it, with every morsel and fiber of my being.

I grew up in cold climes -- Michigan -- but that doesn't mean I like winter. I entertain no romantic notions of snow angels and winter wonderlands and hot cider and Jack Frost nipping at your nose and whatever other creepy, sappy cliches winter-loving people cling to. I out-and-out hate winter. No apologies. I guess snow's okay when viewed from the vantage point of a toasty warm living room with a roaring fire and mugs of hot cocoa (...whoa, maybe I do subscribe to a little bit of romanticism), but what happens when you have to go outside?

In Michigan, once winter started, life became a winter hell for everyone. To do the simplest tasks -- say, drive your car to school -- you had to perform laborious and miserable rituals, every single day. Bundle up. Shovel the driveway (this was usually done by Dad, to be honest). Break ice off car locks with ice pick. Attempt to turn on car several times. Curse. Run back inside to restart bloodflow to hands. Ten minutes later, re-emerge to get in car once engine is sufficiently warmed. Slowly back out of driveway. Run into snowbank. Start to drive to school. Skid on black ice. Arrive to school. Search for close parking spot. Fail. Park in back. Trudge through black slushy mess to get to class. Arrive in class with numb feet and hands, the bottom of your jeans coated with Detroit snow sludge. Repeat come lunch time.

Ugh. I HATED winter when I lived in Michigan but I didn't really have anything to compare it to. I had never really experienced any extended non-snowy, non-freezing period between the end of October and March until I came to college in California. True, Stanford's gross, rainy winters and cold, windy nights were not exactly a tropical California paradise, but it was a hell of a lot better than the Arctic tundra that is the Detroit metro area.

Michigan schoolchildren -- at least, public schoolchildren, cough -- are taught to be tough (snow days? pshaw!), and are sent to so-called "Winter Survival Camp" in northern Michigan in fifth grade. The preparation for the trip is a fun rite of passage, involving buying those gross Canadian rubber-toed lace up boots, hand-warmers, and turtle furs. At Camp Wolverine, ( we slept in a lodge, helped clean dishes, went snow-tunneling and snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing, sang camp songs, learned to make shingles using an axe and a log, did "trust falls" and ropes courses, and, for the lucky few, contracted pneumonia. I'm not kidding.

The year I went to Camp Wolverine, the fabled winter of 1993/1994, was one of the coldest winters in recent memory. With wind chill, it was 40 degrees below zero on several of the days, but true Wolverines scoff at 40 degrees below zero. We were out there making lean-tos and going on nature hikes and learning about Native American lodgings, frostbite be damned! Camp Wolverine was the first time I remembered actually losing circulation in my hands -- later I realized this was the beginning stages of superficial frostbite that I have gotten several times since -- and it happened when we were learning how to cook an egg on a stick. I guess a really key winter survival skill is egg-stick-cooking, since most people who are lost in the wilderness tend to carry a carton of eggs in their backpack, along with a pogo stick, a book of Pablo Neruda's poetry, and a bag of confetti. I mean COME ON.

So the counselor was showing us how to very carefully sharpen the end of the stick and very carefully wheedle the stick through the egg without cracking it, and very carefully hold the egg over the blazing fire. All of this stick-sharpening and egg-positioning required us taking off our gloves so as not to crack the egg, and my fingers were fast turning white and numb. Finally, in a desperate bid to warm up, I deliberately cracked the hot egg over my hands. The counselor saw me and tsk-ed. "Better wash those hands off," he said, and instructed me to stick my bare, white, egg-covered hands in the snowbank to clean them off. So, that plan backfired.

The point of all of this fun reminiscing is that I will never, EVER live in a cold climate again unless I am absolutely required to, and only if I am guaranteed that it will be a temporary sojourn. I HATE this. All of you winter lovers can keep your ice skating and covered sleigh rides and chestnuts roasting on the open fire. Screw winter. I'm going into hibernation.

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