When does winter begin? With the first significant snowfall down here in the valley? Perhaps the first night below zero (F)? The first time you have to put on snowshoes right from the car?
Some folks, ill acquainted with the lands beyond conventional human habitation (mid-latitude and low elevation) and hewing to a strictly temperature-based conception of the seasons, say that winter comes early in places like ours. These are the same folks who think its not spring just because there is still snow in the mountains.
I find that if we’re going to use word-concepts like seasons, we are best served by orthodoxy. Look at the calendar. Winter begins with the solstice.
After all, we don’t just describe the world with words, we create our understanding of it, and what more poignant reminder of the subjective perspectivalism inherent in all communication than admitting how drastically different “winter” is for various people around the globe. At the same time, hewing to a broader, immutable definition of the seasons keeps us from viewing our immediate experience as too important. Just because it snowed more this year, and I feel colder as a result, does not mean that definitions need be changed. Next year the opposite might happen and I might feel, in retrospect, rather silly.
So winter is coming, soon. Our scant daylight is the best reminder of that. But in little over a month the days will get longer, while for months after the snow will pile up and temperatures will remain consistently frigid, a reminder that slave though we be to the sun, it’s influence on our daily lives is ruled by distance and the most tangible implications are months delayed from all visual evidence.
It’s a rough transition every year. Snow makes things harder, as evidenced by today’s labors: what would have been in summer 90 minutes focused walking took nearly twice that, pushing powder with big snowshoes. It is a very nice, natural base building tool, now that my main season goals are in July.
For the moment patience must rein as winter looms. There’s not enough snow for skiing to be worthwhile, but more than enough to be tempting. Skiing, more than anything, is winter.