by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
February 14, 2008
THE WINTER OF MY DISCONTENT
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - As I write this, it's raining ice. Maybe a half a foot of snow and ice has already landed up here in the woods of Dummerston. Our cars are encased in it, and the door to the house is blocked. The satellite dish that brings in our Internet service quit about 20 minutes ago - frozen solid.
"The snow doesn't give a soft white damn whom it touches," said the poet E. E. Cummings. The ice doesn't give a hard white damn.
I fill a watering can with warm - not hot - water, stick a broom under my arm, and crunch out to the satellite dish. As ice pellets rain down on my head, I pour the water over the ice. It cracks. I sweep it away with the broom.
"Winter either bites with its teeth or lashes with its tail," goes the old proverb. Right now, we're being both bitten and lashed. Winter, bite me!
If you happen to see some blue sky out your window today, don't be lulled into thinking Old Man Winter has gone away. He's just taking a break, and Jack Frost is nipping at his toes.
First of all, why is winter an old man?
"Like so many other things, the seasons have often been personified," says The Phrase Finder (phrases.org.uk). "Which one gets to be the charming and seductive woman is open, but for the dour, blustery, punishing end of the year, an old man seems an apt personification."
I think that's an insult to all old men, but then, what do I know? I'm too busy stifling a wintry primal scream.
This week was better than last week, when we didn't see blue sky and sun at all - it was relentlessly a suicidal gray, gray, gray.
I didn't realize how depressed I was getting until the sun came out for a brief moment late one afternoon and someone pointed it out.
"I don't care," I lashed out, to my surprise. "It hasn't come out all week and now it's coming out just to set. It can go to hell!"
The poor guy was just making small talk, and I felt really bad when I saw the startled look on his face. Then I told the story to someone else who laughed and said he knew exactly how I felt.
It's not that I don't love parts of winter. I love fresh white snow with the sun bouncing off it. It reminds me of what Aldous Huxley said about looking at gemstones - the sparkle opens your third eye. I love snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing, too.
But doesn't this February seem to have been especially gray and unkind? According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, we were supposed to have a fairly normal February here in the Northeast - rain and snow, sun and cold. The almanac didn't talk about not seeing the sun for five days straight, or about how this might affect people with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
"I like these cold, gray winter days," said cartoonist Bill Watterson, who gave us the great "Calvin and Hobbes" strip (and then took it away). "Days like these let you savor a bad mood."
In this, the winter of my discontent, he makes sense.
Of course, we're lucky we're not in China, which is having its worst winter in 50 years. So far 107 people have died there in "driving sleet, freezing temperatures and a blanket of snow across southern China," according to The Times Of London Online (timesonline.co.uk). The Associated Press says Chinese insurance companies have already paid out over $167 million, and "Millions more in claims are pending. Total damage is estimated at 111.1 billion yuan ($15.5 billion)."
But I won't gloat. It may be China this year, but it may be us in 2009.
In "An Affair to Remember," Deborah Kerr says, "Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories." The implication of that is that I must be a bad person to dislike this winter so much. But I have warm memories galore; it's just that they don't mean much when I'm negotiating my hilly road when it's a sheet of ice that hasn't been sanded all day, or when the car in front of my husband's spins out 360 degrees. After all, as the Welsh poet George Herbert said, "Every mile is two in winter."
And then the phones and the power go out.
Some of us are happy because the Red Sox are reporting to spring training. After all, Bill Veeck said, "There are only two seasons - winter and Baseball."
But to me right now, that's just putting a good face on a bad month. Which many poets do. "Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter," Goethe said. "Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it."
And Percy Bysshe Shelley said rapturously, "O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?"
But I'm with Ezra Pound: "Winter is icumen in/Lhude sing Goddamm/Raineth drop and staineth slop/And how the wind doth ramm!/Sing:Goddam,"
Yes, this is the winter of my discontent.
"Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen," said Willa Cather, and I, who am getting more stale, shabby, old and sullen by the hour, agree with her.
And so I sing Goddam!
A collection of Joyce Marcel's columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com. And write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.