Winter.

Many Irish folks I know are obsessed with the weather.  Funny, perhaps, since the weather (in my view) doesn’t seem to change all that much around here.  Rain, drizzle, downpour, bit of sun, drizzle, rain, drizzle, fog.

Still, I have conversations about it on a daily basis with the people around me.  Seems they watch the forecast religiously, and quote their knowledge to friends and family on the streets.  “It’s meant to lash by Wednesday.”  “Ah sure, but they’re saying it’ll turn mild by the weekend.”  “Well it’s very warm today, so it is – the cheeks are flying off of me.”

And so forth. 🙂

The last few days have been full of horrendous weather, truly awful, miserable and bleak fare.  The wind has blown terribly hard for days, bringing bucket-loads of rain and littering the town with a trail of broken umbrellas across every street and footpath.  Last night, the wind was so bad, it even blew the pebbledash right off the side of our house.

Fog in Drogheda along the River Boyne - December 2012

Fog in Drogheda along the River Boyne – December 2012

I have to say, winters here are still strange to me.  I’ll never quite get used to the lack of snow or the way the grass glows its most truly emerald hues between November and March.  I love coming home to a roaring coal fire, but I miss the smell of burning pine.  And, even after growing up in a sub-zero climate, I don’t think I will ever adapt to the bone-chilling dampness of a truly dark winter’s day in this part of the world.  No amount of fire or tea or blankets or sweaters can make a difference when one of those chilly Dickensian days decides to hit.  No wonder everyone here died of consumption a century ago, and no wonder people still struggle to fight off colds and flu now.  No wonder we all count down the days until Spring!

Winter was quite the opposite in Montana, where I grew up.  We couldn’t wait for winter to begin! 

A haven for winter sports and piles upon piles of glistening snow, Bozeman, Montana, was a destination of sorts for many.  Skiers and snowboarders started saying their prayers early that they’d be able to have their first run by Thanksgiving (late November) and, equally, hoped their last wouldn’t come until Easter.

I’ve loved snowy winters for as long as I can remember. Two of the public parks within walking distance of our house were flooded every winter so people could go ice skating for free. We took lessons sometimes, but mostly, we’d just walk down to the park on a whim, skates tied together by their laces and carried over a shoulder. We’d change in the warm-up hut, where the smell of wet wooly mittens and snow boots still lingers today. Mom might have sent us over with a thermos of hot cocoa, which would be safely stowed under a bench for later. We’d skate around and around until the arches of our feet hurt and our fingers were frozen.

If skating wasn’t on the cards, we might drag our plastic sleds to Peet’s Hill on the other side of our neighbourhood. Not for the faint-hearted, Peet’s Hill was very steep and the only thing stopping wayward sledders from skidding into oncoming traffic was a massive pile of sawdust at the bottom. Oof! The thrill and occasional violence of our crashes still echoes on my achy bones. 🙂

Bridger Bowl Map

Bridger Bowl Map

Then, of course, skiing. I learned to cross-country ski first, mostly when my Uncle Dick used to come for Christmas visits. When I was a bit older, I went to the ski school at Bridger Bowl during homeschool ski days. I learned how to downhill ski and loved it immediately. Later, I challenged myself to snowboarding, because all the cool kids were doing it (OK, all the boys were doing it!) and I enjoyed that a lot, too, though it is quite different to skiing. I’ve always described snowboarding as the only leisure activity I know of that literally knocks the snot out of you (you fall a lot when you’re learning to snowboard!). Once I learned how to ski/snowboard, though, I never looked back. I wasn’t great at it, only an intermediate really, probably because I was too timid to take jumps! But there’s nothing like shooshing down a mountain at top speed, incredible views all around you and deep, fluffy snow that goes up past your knees on the best days. I never had the money for a season pass, but plenty of my friends went several times a week up to Bridger Bowl, Big Sky, or Moonlight Basin to ski and snowboard the winter months away. It’s one of the activities I miss the most during winter in Ireland. We have friends here who travel to France, Austria, Switzerland or Italy to pursue the sport, but we’ve never made it on a winter vacation ourselves. It’s on the bucket list.

There were plenty of other ways to enjoy the winter in the American West of my youth – building snowmen, snowmobiling through Yellowstone, sleigh rides on Lone Mountain, ice fishing, or simply going on long, lovely walks in the crisp, clear air – and I rarely found myself bored or wishing for Spring to come. Our community and our families catered for winter, so rarely was cold or snowy weather a hindrance to normal everyday life. We made a lot of soups and stews and drank a lot of hot drinks. My mom’s specialties were Bean Soup with Ham Hock and Russian Tea (a mix of instant tea, Tang, and spices), but everyone’s mom had a specialty. The roads were cleared constantly, as were the sidewalks (hefty fines were given to those who were too slow to shovel their walks properly) and most people had at least one sturdy four-wheel-drive vehicle. Actually, most cars had the capability to be “plugged in” at night – a cable with a plug literally hung out from under the hood of your car and all you had to do was attach it to an extension cord plugged into a live electric socket. Presto! Your car starts in the morning.

It’s a magical world that still exists, which is perhaps why I miss it more acutely when the Irish winter throws mostly rain and wind at me. It’s not better… it’s just different. And I know what the folks here would think if we were to get a Montana snowstorm!!! England, Scotland and Wales often get hit much worse than we do and even they can’t cope. A few inches of snow and everyone is advised to stay home, schools are closed, flights cancelled.

Nevertheless, it’s our differences that make the world go ’round, this I know. But there’s my thoughts on the weather, ha ha, only since everyone else in my little town loves to talk about it so much.

What is winter like where you are?

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3 thoughts on “Winter.

  1. Ah yes. Winter in Montana. I have learned to appreciate less cold winters in Washington with the same emerald green grass (well, moss in my yard:) but we do love to visit “real” winter when we get the chance. I especially appreciate your thoughts on winter road care. It just doesn’t happen in places where snow is a rarity.

  2. Your Montana winters sound like the Minnesota winters I still ache for. Indiana has a winter of grey skies, hidden sun, and brown earth. I miss winters that make me feel alive.

  3. I know what you mean about the weirdness of wet-country winters. I’ve lived in Oregon for coming up on nine years now, and it still throws me, sometimes, to look outside and see that bright green grass. I’ve had parsley growing in my yard since summer. Even the frost didn’t seem to kill it.

    Fortunately, I don’t think we get the bone-chilling damp. I suppose those extra few degrees of latitude make a difference; I don’t know why else Oregon would have such comparatively mild winters.

    Montana winter sounds great, the way you describe it. The opportunity to go sledding is one I’ve never properly had, except for a few days out of the year in Maryland. And how lovely to have a reason to eat those special winter foods! Here, it barely gets cold enough to justify them.

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