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Abigail B. Calkin

A Blog of Personal Thoughts

My Favourite Season: Winter

February 2021

What is my favourite season? Winter! Why do I spell it that way when I live in the United States? Because I like that spelling. Half my family is Canadian. I lived in Canada for four months as a young teenager. I lived in Scotland and England for three years and seriously considered moving there. At that time, I preferred Scotland and Canada to the US. Further, as an eight-year-old, I decided Maine wasn’t cold enough and realized I had to move to Yukon or Alaska. Further research said Yukon did not have much of a coastline, but next-door Alaska did. I moved to Alaska many years later.

Some other time in my childhood on a late Christmas afternoon, I sat on the sofa in the living room, waiting…waiting…waiting for the snow to fall. At four o’clock, a few flakes came followed by more that gave us a white Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. This morning as I sit in my study on a late January day in Alaska watching it snow, I realize that if someone asked my favourite season and my favourite weather, I would say winter and snow.

I like the cold, short days. I like the whiteness of snow, its balance on bald tree limbs outside my childhood bedroom. I like its tenacity on the evergreen bows of my Alaska forest home.

I like watching the size and shape of the flakes, the density of a heavy snow, the blowing snow of the cold Midwest. I thought, why don’t you just fall straight, yet the day the Kansas snow fell straight, I paused to wonder what was wrong. In my New England childhood snow fell straight, but Midwest snow blows in clusters, yet here was a Kansas storm where the snow had no powering wind and white flakes landed in orderly fashion like soldiers on parade where one followed the other.

One recent day as I walked the dock, it began to snow horizontally from the northeast. In minutes it turned to windblown snow. Swirls of flakes landed, where they did not know. If I had a choice, I could spend a life as a single flake or a swirling storm of blowing wind that drive people to stay inside, that make thousands of flakes hollow my front walk and leave three feet along one side. Or I could spend my life in a glacier and be a snowflake that turned to ice.

Snow moves me. It deepens my thoughts into writing. I write much more in winter than summer. Summer is for gardening, bike riding, wading, kayaking, and occasionally swimming in Alaska’s ocean. Summer is for storing up food, words, and ideas. Winter is for eating the gardened and foraged nourishment, and placing ideas in the right poem, story, or article.

Seldom I hear words
Instead, scenes show a dance I
place in verse or prose

Snow falls—best weather
winter—favorite season where
all is white and still.

Snow becomes crystals
scenes appear before my eyes
light the path ahead.

I sit here at my desk looking out the windows at the part of the Tongass National Rain Forest where I live. Spruce trees, their heavily flocked limbs bend towards the ground. Rhododendron leaves droop once again in winter’s chill. Limbs on deciduous trees stand covered too. Beyond the white of snow, brown tree trunks stand most prominent as the sun dims and sets behind them.

My husband likes winter and snow too. It’s quiet. Outside, that is, the lower 48 states, most people stay in their homes to leave us alone in the Far North. I don’t know what they do in winter. I write and read articles or books for research on these snowy days. Some days I ski or go for a walk. I used to ice skate, but older knees don’t like to fall on hard surfaces. Now I just dream about skating. My husband used to pull our toddler son and me behind the pickup on a sled. I’d do that again, but that son now had his own children beyond toddler age. He skis with them. One rainy day, the youngest skied while holding the umbrella she received for Christmas.

My childhood memories include deep snow, building snow forts and having melodious snowball fights at recess, the scratch and flow of skating, skiing, sledding, being told to get off the ice when my lips turned blue, making snow angels. Such were the days from Thanksgiving till Easter, of tires frozen flat on cold nights and the kuh-thump, kuh-thump, kuh-thump of my father driving till the tires warmed and expanded to round. Those are the sights and sounds of my childhood.

When I consulted in a Yukon village school one winter week, it was a cold plug-your-engine-in-at-night and park-close-to-the outlet-so-wolves coyotes or dogs don’t-trip-and-unplug-it-while-you-sleep. It was a night when the grocery-hardware storeowner loaned me a new cord that would reach, but lie on the ground, from my engine to the wall since I didn’t have one. The next morning at -47, take your pick on Celsius or Fahrenheit, my car went kuh-thump, kuh-thump, kuh-thump. I felt warm and glowed with fond memories of my father kuh-thumping to town as I headed the four or five hours down the road to Whitehorse. I had my memories and my survival gear of down sleeping bag, blankets, down coat, fur hat, bunny boots, down gloves, snowsuit, Arctic US Air Force gloves, thermos of hot tea, food, mirror, headlamp, spare batteries, and matches. As I left the meeting, Chief Isaac asked if I had a candle. I did not and didn’t ask why. I pondered for months and figured out that if stuck, I would have put it on the dashboard to warm my hands. I passed no car. No car passed me. I saw no car driving north. I was alone on the road except for eight elk off to the side and one on the road. I loved the solitude of driving from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse on that early January day. My thoughts were my own, the landscape breathtaking. I have driven that road in all seasons. My favorite was the winter drive. Yes, I had my cell phone with me, but I remembered the signs, fifty miles out of Whitehorse: “No cellphone service north of here.” Seventy-five miles out of Whitehorse: “No SAT phone service beyond here” or something that may as well have said—You are on your own from here on out. Yukon law says a driver can’t pass by a hitchhiker at -5 c. or a stalled car at -20 c. Seems very reasonable to me.

Then and now, I fear not for myself but for the planet, my planet. Yes, it was cold those days in Yukon or across the border in Alaska. But today is not as cold as fifty years ago and fifty years hence, it will not be as cold then as today. I loved those cold days for it said the planet was healthy.  Today, I fear for the warming of the Far North. Glaciers are melting and the more they melt, the warmer it gets. Why? Because white reflects light away from Earth and darker colours of green, brown, or blue absorb light to make it warmer still. As glaciers melt, their water runs into the seas and these oceans rise. No, I’ll take melting snow mid-spring, but meanwhile, give me my favourite season—winter with its cold, snowy, windy, white, short days.

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