Sometimes you imagine what certain things in life would be like without having any firsthand experience with them. Like flying in an airplane. Or going through childbirth. Or having your first taste of honest-to-goodness real fish and chips wrapped in newspaper at a roadside stand in New Zealand.
Sometimes your expectations fall short of the actual experience. Sometimes your assumptions are just dead wrong. But every once in awhile the experience is far and away better than you ever hoped it would be.
I was thinking this as I pulled on my outer layers of clothes last week. Snow pants over the thermals. Snow boots over the socks. Snow jacket over the long-sleeved shirt over the thermals. Cowl over the snow jacket. Snow mittens over the gloves. Hood over the head. It only takes me a couple of minutes to layer up now. I've come a long way from the first day that I put all of my snow gear on. I needed a little four-year-old neighbor's help. "Do I put the snow pants into the snow boots?" "Do I put my heavy mittens on before I put the snow jacket on or after?"
John and I are getting ready to take our afternoon walk in the snow. It is a new addition to our daily routine. We just have to get out into the white Marshmallow World outside our doors. Sometimes we walk on the roads. Sometimes we walk a little off the beaten path. I like to see how deep the snow is, and I just love to walk in snow. I love that crunching sound that I hear with every footstep.
It's -2 degrees at 4:30 in the afternoon. -2 degrees. The high temperature for the day. I've never been in subzero temperatures before. I knew they were coming, but I didn't expect them until January.
We step outside, and the biting cold hits me in the face. My face is the only exposed skin on my body. It stings more than it usually does. I can feel that it is very cold out, but my layers are doing their job. I'm okay. Every breath I take is deep. The moisture in my nose freezes on every inhale and thaws on every exhale. It's a funny feeling. I remember locals telling me about one winter in the 1970's when the temperatures dipped down into the -40s. I'm told that at that temperature it hurts to breathe.
With every step I hear a "sweesh!" "sweesh!" sound. My snow pants. Then I make John take a few steps without me. I have to know if he makes this sound, too, or if it is just me and my thighs. It's both of us. Good.
John's gloved hand reaches for my mittened hand, but it is so bundled up that I have a hard time wrapping my fingers around his. My hand is more like a nub. I tell him that maybe he should just hold my wrist. And we laugh in -2 degrees.
It is so beautiful. Everything is under a snowy white blanket that glistens and glitters. It is peaceful. The only sound I hear beside our walking is the sound of birds calling to each other in neighboring trees. I am amazed that some of these birds stick out the winter weather rather than migrating south. I think about my black bears hidden away sleeping in cozy dens away from the snow. Some females will wake up as mama bears with cubs come spring. Oh, I hope they will come and see me.
The evergreen trees are spectacular. They tower above everything. Dark green. Solid. Enduring. The aspens, which get so much attention the rest of the year with their beautiful white trunks and gorgeous green and gold leaves, are having to rest up after their autumn show of splendor. They are sleeping peacefully, gearing up for next spring. But not the evergreens. This is their season to shine. Their season to prove that they are the true kings of the woods.
By the time we reach the bottom of the hill, the cold has seeped in. My fingers are starting to sting. My arms are not just feeling the cold; they are getting a little cold. I think that maybe my nose is running, but I can't tell for sure because my face has gone numb. I lift my mitten to my nose to check, but it comes back dry. Only my feet are toasty warm. These Sorel snow boots are worth every single penny that we paid for them.
At this point in our walk we always decide whether or not we want to walk back home the long way or the short way. Today there is no contest. Today the short way wins. I like the cold, but I keep thinking about the fireplace and a mug of something hot to drink waiting for me back inside.
My ears are angry. Why haven't I knit myself a warm woolen hat yet? I drape my cowl over my head inside of the hood of my jacket. Ah! Much better! This cowl is proving to be worth its weight in gold. I look at John, and am slightly alarmed to see that the tip of his nose has turned white. It is no longer bright, rosy red like our cheeks. It is white. "Umm,...Baby...your nose is...white." He walks the rest of the way home with his gloved hand up to his nose trying to thaw it with his warm breath. And again, we laugh in -2 degrees.
I cannot imagine walking in colder temperatures than these. Twice in the last week we woke up to -24 degrees. That seems unbelievable to me, but it's true. The first morning the indoor/outdoor thermometer reads this, I can't help myself. I have to know what it feels like. I step outside on our deck in my pajamas and house slippers. It is a shock. I have never felt a cold like that cold ever. It cuts straight to the bones in an instant. John describes it like being put in a vise. It feels like it is squeezing in on you somehow. Yes. He's right. It does feel like that. I cannot come up with anything to describe it other than two words: Dead. Cold. I cannot imagine how it is possible that anything could stay alive in that kind of cold. We choose not to go for our snow walks those two days. We are fortunate to be able to stay indoors and keep warm and wait for things to warm back up to the negative single digits.
By the time we walk back up the hill, we are out of breath. What would have normally heated us up has only helped to ward off some of the chill. John's nose is a nice rosy red again. I take off only my mittens and gloves, my jacket, and my boots and go straight to the fireplace inside. After about five minutes my fingers stop hurting. They are warm again. Now my face hurts. It is thawing. Stinging. But not for long. The warmth from the fireplace seeps in taking over from the cold. Time for tea.
Oh, how I love it. Every bit of it. The snow. The cold. The evergreens. The winter sky. The layers. The fireplace. This experience really is far and away better than I ever hoped it would be.