March 1, 2022 Submitted by Matt LeBretton
New England is swaddled in the glories of the seasons: the clambakes, the wafting scent of municipally permitted burning leaves, the tykes rocking hoodies beneath their team jerseys on Opening Day for Hingham Little League, the unique parochial joy we extract from knowing that every June when we celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill we’re commemorating a battle that was actually fought on Breed’s Hill, the insider comfort we take in ruefully shaking our heads when yet another Hollywood bigshot in a summer blockbuster mutilates what we know should be a legitimate Boston accent. Maybe they should make a few more movies here.
And then there is winter, which can now stretch from October to May-ish, with a few 70-degree days tossed in here and increasingly there to keep things interesting and send us rummaging through the recesses of drawers and closets for a pair of shorts when February pops us with an unseasonal scorcher.
This winter, and I do not have the scientific evidence to support this but my internal Farmer’s Almanac tells me that it’s true, felt grayer than most. Not necessarily colder, but definitely damper and even the few hours of daylight it is our birthright to expect did little better than to turn the sky a sort of depressing shade of puce. So devoid of sunshine that I added Vitamin D supplements to my panic room stockpile of hand sanitizer and Hall & Oates cassette tapes.
(A physician friend once told me that, in the Northeast, people could dance outside naked all day from April to November and still be Vitamin D-deficient, a theory that I have neither tested personally nor recommend anyone else pursue.)
But there is an escape, gifted to us by the same region that curses us with darkness. If you’re lucky enough, I highly recommend getting out of Dodge and taking advantage of the wintry bounties that New England pairs with the wonders of the other seasons.
Ice fishing, for instance, allows us to revel in the cold. There’s something rewarding, even primal, about armoring oneself in every single layer in one’s possession (including that pair of shorts, if so preferred, either as a base layer or a fetching fashion statement over a pair of snowpants). You get out on the open ice after carefully ensuring its frozen solidity, drill some holes, toss your bait in, wait for the flag to pop, then go on a mad scramble or snowmobile trip across the lake, and find your pescatarian prize. Always careful to put back what you won’t eat – similar to Girl Scout’s Thinmints.
Pond hockey itself is a New England staple, kids and maybe a few old guys lacing up the skates and turning loose – lousy knees be damned for the latter crowd. It’s a throwback to when kids just got together and played, without the hectoring interference of their parental units. An hour of pond hockey, passing the puck tape-to-tape despite the stubborn fallen leaves jutting up through the ice, is good for the soul.
Do not, however, under any circumstances, smell the hockey gloves. One of my top winter survivalist and mental health tips. Never smell the hockey gloves.
And count me as an I wish I were a big “Let’s ski” guy. Alas, I’m not despite my love for apres but really more because I lack the physical dexterity and early training to throw on a pair of waxed up foot rockets and point down the ominous vertical drop of the bunny slope at Blue Hills. Packing up the family wagon and driving Griswold-style to Maine or New Hampshire or Vermont is a far better winter family activity, even when I don’t turn myself into a downward facing uncontrollable battering ram on skis, than what I did as a kid: load up my hands with pair after pair of mittens (i.e. socks) and engage in tooth rattling snowball fights with neighborhood toughs.
Perhaps because we’re forced to, around here we know how to capitalize on the winter months. But it’s also due to that fantastic sensation of coming home after a long, active day in the subzero environs, peeling off the wool and fleece, and warming up with some hot chocolate for the kids and the aforementioned apres for the adults. Sometimes even curling up with a good book or binging some fare with loved ones in front of the fire. That’s a feeling many in Arizona and Florida may never experience, which is their loss. And do you know a lot of native Southern Californians who are fortunate enough to change their snow tires twice a year? I do not.
In closing, while we grapple with the occasionally life-threatening challenges imposed by Ol’ Jack Frost, it’s darn good to enjoy winter’s pleasures. Ever hop on a sled with a kid and listen to their shrieks of delight echo your own feelings as you both plunge down the hill at South Shore Country Club, carefully skirting arboreal obstacles along the way of course, and be reminded of your own childhood? There’s not much like it.
Here’s to winter. Long(ish) may it rain…err snow.
Writer’s note: This column will now be on hiatus until late Spring. Thanks for reading.