When I was growing up, we lived within walking distance to a large, public park. Our local recreation department held a Twelfth Night bonfire where families brought their Christmas trees and, as we watched the dazzling flames light up the night, we sang seasonal songs and drank hot chocolate.
After a snowfall, my friends and I would drag our sleds to a large estate at the end of our block that had been willed to the city and was now part of that park. The mansion had been transformed into an art gallery, but the grounds were perfect for sledding. We’d form a chain and with our feet moving forward in tandem, push our sleds off the top of a bluff down a steep hill to the bottom. We shrieked with laughter, sometimes tumbling in a heap before we landed, and when we were chilled to the bone, we trudged home for steaming hot chocolate and cookies.
Around that same time, I discovered a series of books that were set on Lake Superior, and while the author and the titles completely escape me, I remember vividly that most of the books were set in winter, the main characters a family whose lives centered around outdoor activities near the ice-encrusted lake. I was completely enchanted.
When my own children were young, their friends would convene at our house after a snowfall and make snow angels and build snow forts in our backyard, laughing and chattering until they, too, were chilled to the bone. Then they’d all waddle into our mudroom to remove their boots and wet jackets, snow pants, scarves, and mittens, and like my mother before me, I’d serve hot chocolate and cookies.
A few years ago, at the end of the summer, my husband and I took a cruise to the Canadian Maritime Provinces and Greenland. You’d probably not be surprised to learn that my favorite part of the trip was Greenland, where the temperature was in the 30s and 40s, and we were walking around wearing down jackets and mittens in early September. I loved the starkness of the landscape and the view from the shore of small icebergs brightening the dark sea with brilliant light.
I have thought often what it is about winter that I find so compelling, enough so that in retirement we moved north rather than south. We now live in a village on Lake Ontario, where the winters can be cold and and snow-covered for at least several weeks or months during the season.
There are complex reasons, I am certain: as an introvert I like settling in with a crackling fire in the fireplace, to read books, a warming cup of tea in hand. I enjoy cooking comfort meals, walking or snowshoeing in the snow, and meeting friends at cozy pubs that in summer months are filled with happy, noisy tourists. And I’m thrilled when I catch a glimpse of ice boats gliding across our bay.
Winter is a time for reflection, too, and a time when I give myself permission to just be without having to purposely shut out the extraneous noise and activity that’s so much a part of my life during other seasons.. It’s also when I am most productive with my writing, and quietude and solitude recharge my weary body and soul.
Karen Shughart is the author of the Edmund DeCleryk Cozy mystery series. Her third book, Murder at Freedom Hill, was released in November.