A dozen-plus views
I started writing another essay but it wasn’t working. I didn’t know what to do with it. I sat at the desk, facing a window, and started daydreaming. It was eighty-two degrees out and brightly sunny. My thoughts turned to winter.
I mean the season (I’ve talked previously here about loving cold) and the aesthetics, a map of associations I link to January, sleet, long nights. I daydreamed for a minute, staring out the window. I got back to work a minute later, but first wrote down the first couple associations that came to mind. Yesterday, in homage to Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, I tacked on a bunch more.
Perhaps of interest if you’re somewhere it’s been hot lately.
Walking with my dad late at night during a blizzard, a total white-out. Neither of us could explain why the sky was orange.
Walt Whitman’s quote “wisdom comes with winters.” I read that on the back of a catalog for the school where I attended college. Apt since the school was in central Maine. Less apt, I found out later, considering Walt Whitman never said that.
Lighting a fire in the very early morning blue-black dark. Also, Nicholson Baker’s book A Box of Matches.
Pond hockey. Surfing on cafeteria trays.
The steeliness of air when a February afternoon becomes evening, as if the air at twilight is crystalizing, shatterable.
Skidding donuts at night in a snowy parking lot at the train station.
I went with a dozen friends to Québec City one January. I was nineteen. There was a girl on the trip I liked. We all pre-gamed with cheap, very dark beer that was almost too rich. We went to a big club. It had multiple fog machines. The girl and I made out in a ruby red banquette. She had long, very straight black hair. We got drunk, we walked to another club, the girl and I lagged behind and made out at a bus stop. Everything was covered in ice and frost. After the next club, another club. Between clubs, we slid on the sidewalk and shoved each other into snowbanks. The night was exceptionally cold. There were ice sculptures in a park made from chainsaws. I remember the city seemed incredibly reflective, though darkly, all neon and ice, and something about the glassy dark, our ropy drunkenness, the sloppiness of kissing, made the night feel like an ocean.
What does winter mean? A hemisphere oriented away from the Sun. No wonder it’s a useful metaphor.
My grandfather used to go caroling at night around Chicago in December, in a group of men all wearing green top hats. I still have the top hat. People thanked them in alcohol.
I almost got sent to Russia one winter on a work assignment and wound up disappointed (they sent someone else). I almost got sent to Russia this past winter on a work assignment and wound up disappointed (the story wasn’t approved). I’ve tried for years to find a way to do an assignment in Antarctica. I talked recently to a NASA scientist, who invited me to spend three weeks with him this summer in the Arctic Circle, but it would’ve cost me $18,000 just to get there. Do I seek out cold places because I live in a warm one, or would I seek them out anyway? As the planet warms, do cold fantasies become widespread? The lucky ones huddling in movie theaters, watching Smilla’s Sense of Snow?
The Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, contains 1,886 doors, 1,945 windows, 1,500 rooms, and 117 staircases.
There’s always a night, usually around October, when I start watching snowboarding videos before I go to bed.
One reason I love Madame Bovary is its iciness: the precise etching of characters, their feelings and reasonings. I haven’t reread it recently, but I think of it as a novel of warm temperatures, Emma and her lovers meeting outdoors, but possessing a very cold eye.
Sometimes when I lived in a place with a long winter, I hated it, really hated it – the endless dark, feeling cramped, short days always in long underwear, always cranky neighbors and slushy roads, snow shoveling again, ice clearing again, the need to wear tiny crampons just to run errands. No wonderment. Ever slogging. My feet forever reminding me of the year I got bad frostbite. This is also an appeal of winter to me: the sharpening of knowing precisely what I hate.
Then there’s the feeling you get in April, when you live in a cold place, when suddenly, for the first time in a long time, the air and the light and the trees all say spring.
Coats. Overcoats. Things worn on top of overcoats.
Bar Gyu+ in Hokkaido, Japan, is “the fridge door bar.” You enter by opening a small refrigerator door set in a big wall of snow, only to discover a warm little whiskey bar inside, a jazz soundtrack playing, an immense window behind the bartender looking onto yet more snow-draped trees.
I am a winter person. I love the quiet of snowfall at night. I love a silence that almost seems decorative. From Mary Oliver’s poem “White-Eyes”:
all the singing is in
the tops of the trees
In tomorrow’s supplement: Recent media favorites, how I’ve been finding new (old) music, and a newsletter for discovering the weird wide web.
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What the what
Meditations in an Emergency is a micro-essay published Saturdays by novelist Rosecrans Baldwin about things he finds beautiful, with a longer essay once a month for subscribers, written in the woods.
Also for subscribers, a Sunday supplement with three-plus ideas of things to love, no paid placements 💀
Rosecrans is the author most recently of Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles, winner of the 2022 California Book Award, now available in paperback from Bookshop, Amazon, or (preferably) your local store. Other books include The Last Kid Left and Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down. His debut novel, You Lost Me There, was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.
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