(Ed. Note: Despite the content of this post, I greatly appreciate the raw savage beauty of Northern New York Winters. The stars are absolutely incredible, and the glories of the extreme cold up here are truly a sight to behold. However, 150 days is enough to try anyone’s patience. This is for those who understand what a cold winter is, and how those of us in this fraternity deal with the reality of a long winter. Those who live for winter will not be able to relate to this at all.)
When you live in a northern US climate, you have to have some pretty advanced coping skills to deal with a winter that can last five months or longer. Here where I live, in the beautiful Thousand Islands area of New York, we employ a technique that I call North Country Amnesia.
Now, this may sound intimidating, and complex, but it is really pretty simple, and it is done by many of us without even thinking about it.
Basically, when it is beautiful here, we simply forget the insane, long cold winter, and enjoy the marvelous spring, summer and fall. We awaken from North Country Amnesia right around now, (mid October to early November), and assent to the reality of the calendar. Winter is on its way, it will not delay, and we are right in the path of another cold, seemingly endless, bleak winter. We resign ourselves to the inevitable.
As I sit here, I have just enjoyed absolutely beautiful weather since late April. We have seen stretches of weather that are breathtaking, particularly if you have the chance to enjoy the day on a boat on the St. Lawrence River. The Indians called this area “The Garden of the Great Spirit”, and I can certainly attest to the accuracy of this description.
As I look outside, the first real non-summer weather has arrived, and I am blessed by the first stages of autumn color. The reds, yellows, oranges, browns, and even purples and pinks are starting to blaze forth out of the forests, woods, and Adirondacks. The change of seasons is very pronounced here, and we are privileged to see the same landscape in four very diverse changes of clothing.
The next season (winter) will feature a monochromatic palette for close to five months. White, grey, and black will be the primary hues that we will see, and this will be accompanied by temperatures that often drop to -30 Fahrenheit. I have actually felt the snot freeze in my head. I have done the boiling water trick, where I took a boiling pot of water and threw it outside. It turned to snow and fell to the ground, transformed by the incredible, unflinching cold that gripped our village. This is a trick typically displayed on YouTube by scientists at the Amundsen Scott station at the South Pole, or Inuit above the Arctic Circle. I can do it on my front porch. This tells me that I live in a place of great extremes. I have often observed that living here is like living on two different planets. A Green and Blue Eden, and an uninhabited White Dwarf.
The cold can be so violent that to stand in it for more than a few minutes with the wrong coat will result in hypothermia. Frostbite if you don’t have the sense to get in out of it. I have heard booms in my attic as the cold caused rafters to contract violently.
To leave the house requires complete insulation from head to toe, not unlike an astronaut. I refer to our mudroom as the Airlock in the winter, as it is the point of preparation to depart our protected atmosphere, that allows us mammals to survive in these hostile conditions.
Now, I am aware that many among us live for the cold. They are ice fishermen, hunters, snowmobilers, and skiers. I am not one of these. So, I don’t look forward to the cold. And so, I have adapted the same technique of many of those in my community. I don’t think about winter all spring, summer or fall. This is North Country Amnesia. It is an amazingly effective tool. The most intelligent among us employ the technique, and thus preserve sanity during the long cold winter, so we don’t wear ourselves out worrying about the horrific cold that starts to kick in as early as late October.
Indeed, we carry on as if we live in a virtual Utopia, never allowing ourselves to ponder what the place looks like in January or February: Tundra, worthy of a National Geographic special about Emperor Penguins or Polar Bears.
I have often been struck by the very real single-color environment winter reveals here. The greens of summer are long forgotten. The brilliantly colored flowers and birds of spring are a distant memory. The glorious reds, yellows and russets of fall are gone. All that I can see is a blanket of white that meets a gray sky, with black leafless trees punctuating the scene here and there. And the sun is only up for about 15 minutes.
Okay, I am exaggerating about the sunlight, but you get the picture. One must have some real adaptation skills, and I am proud to say that I employ North Country Amnesia with great success. As a matter of fact, I am getting ready to step out of North Country Amnesia as we are settling into the fall season here. I will face the reality of the cold, forbidding winter, and live in survival mode for the next few months, bracing against the cold, shoveling mountains of snow, paying exorbitant prices for propane, shuddering as I stand at the gasoline pump in the howling dark. Starting my car ½ an hour early so it will be warm, staring at the telephone poles to guide me on the highway during a whiteout, thawing my car door lock with a propane torch.
But hey, I really do enjoy the Christmas season, and we almost always get a White Christmas. (Coping Skill Bonus: Looking at the Bright Side…..)