The First Taste of Wisconsin Winter

[Another casual reminder that I write these a week before they go up, since it’s currently summer in Wisconsin again]

It is snowing again today. Over night, the temperatures bottomed out in the high twenties and even hours after dawn, with temerpatures flirting with freezing for hours already, there was still the pale remnants of the morning’s frost on the deep green grass outside my apartment. Flurries of small, damp snowflakes fill the air like mist and dampen the world as the trees drip what remains of the snow that landed on them from their brightly colored leaves. I am bundled up against the wind and chill, my layers quickly dug out of the closet when it became clear that my usual fall garb would be insufficient for the day, and still I briefly consider turning around for a heavier coat. I walk along the sidewalk, tracing the same old path from my front door to my car, but far more attentively than in past months for fear of slipping on the ice that stretches across the sidewalk. Today, I miss the comfort of holding a warm mug in my hand as my new coffee cup prevents any heat from escaping it but I am grateful that my coffee will still be warm throughout my entire drive to work on this blustery, snowy morning.

Wisconsin is caught between seasons. The land still clings to the remnants of summer, buyoued by every peak of heat and damp as warm winds blow in the from the south. Nature insists that fall is here as the leaves begin to change but pause halfway, almost as if the trees themselves are confused about what they should be doing. The sky proclaims that it is winter with iron grey skies, falling snow, and northern winds that chill to the bone as they greedily soak up whatever heat you have. I observe them all and wonder which will win out in the end, trying to ignore the fact that the conclusion to this yearly battle feels less certain than before. It is October in the Midwest and where that once meant a confusing barrage of temperatures rising and falling over weeks, it now means the weather can go from summer to winter and back again in one ten-day forecast. There is no need for fantasy escapism to live in a realm of unpredictable seasons, now that winter stretches far beyond its old borders even if it is sometimes replaced by sudden and brilliant summer.

Later in the day, as I leave the dessicating warmth of my workplace to venture outside in search of what sunlight leaks through the misty grey skies, I huddle against the bitter wind and wish I’d gone back for a heavier jacket. The snow still flurries, but only as it is picked up and carried on every gust. It rides the wind as it seeks to remain just a little while longer, fleeing from the firm but yet unfrozen ground that will quickly melt it. These flakes are transfixing as they blow through sunbeams, refracting light in a sudden, dazzling display of brilliant color that brings life to the otherwise dull greys, browns, and greens of my walk and I do not mind when they clutter my glasses with tiny droplets that refuse to roll away. I can’t fault these short-live flakes for choosing to make one last leap for freedom and life. Most of them escaped entirely, bourn off to places beyond my sight by the gusting wind, while only some melt on my face, in my hair, and clinging to my sweatshirt. Any end is better than silently disappearing on the uncaring ground. This way, they will be remembered once this cold snap has ended. They will survive the return of the sun.

When my walk is finished and I am soaking up the irritating warmth of my office once again, I let my mind wander towards warm beverages and cozy chairs. Heavy blankets comforting me with their weight and my own warmth, mulled cider that’s almost as good to drink as it is to smell, and a crackling fire that will soon make the blanket unnecessary. I’ll resist my eventual warmth for longer than I am comfortable just so I can enjoy the full coziness of all three together for just a little bit more before throwing off the blanket, draining the dregs of my cider, and shifting the logs around so the fire burns less intensely. That done, I’ll return to my couch, tune back in to whatever I was reading or playing, as my day winds on with only occasional disruption to feed the fire or to feed myself as meals become necessary. It is a good daydream, one I am loathe to leave behind so that I can eat my lunch and return to my day’s labors, but it is only a daydream. I have a few more hours of battling the dry heat pumped into my office before I can even begin to attempt such decadent coziness. Hours of dry hands or uncomfortable lotion, of irritated eyes or blinking away filmy synthetic tears, of dry nostrils and a parched throat or far-too-frequent trips to the bathroom that only ever make my hands worse without ever doing much for how shriveled I feel.

Winter has arrived in Wisconsin. It may be short-lived, but it will be back before long. It may never grow worse than today or it may arrive with all the fury of the polar vortexes from years past. There is no way to know yet, as even the farmers almanacs can only give vague hints as to what it to come now as the once stable if fickle weather systems of the northern midwest begin to collapse into cold choas. Unlike the many patterns of summer that once felt dire but were perhaps just the limited view of my relative youth, it is clear that the winters are changing and not in a way that can be easily predicted or summarized. It is difficult to prepare for them alone, in a place that seems to be at the mercy of heavy wind and seeping cold, but I do the best I can. It will be another winter, that much is certain, but I hope for all our sakes that it will not be a harsh one.

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