Friday, November 13, 2009
Here is something I like best about living in New York City: winter does not subsume us. There are a number of reasons for this. The city is a pedestrian place, and our mobility is not so strongly influenced by seasonal weather. Walking goes on, relatively unfettered by rain, cold, or the occasional snow. We stroll to restaurants and window shop in virtually the same manner all year. Subways run primarily underground, so, there again, we do not deal with Mother Nature. Also, the city which we see daily is primarily man-made, so in many areas and neighborhoods, the appearance of the city changes little or not at all.
I grew up in New England, and the coming of winter really changes the collective mindset. The visuals change dramatically, with denuded trees and withering grass. Out come the rakes and snow shovels. Snow tires are checked, gutters cleaned, storm windows positioned, deck furniture put away, swimming pools drained and covered - an entire litany of annual rituals and chores indelibly imprinted in our minds, emblematic of the season. And these changes are not reversed in a warm spell - pools are not filled with water for the day or picnics planned. Apartment dwellers do not have to deal with any seasonal preparations or chores. For most of us, we just put on a heavier coat.
The worst part of New England winters was that feeling of being shut in. There are seasonal activities for those who partake - bike riding, hiking, skiing, apple picking, etc, but after childhood's end, I found it really too cold to want to do much outdoors.
I found comfort that I am not alone in these thoughts and feelings - I came across an article in the New York Times, Winter Walks on Country Roads, written in 1879 about New England winters. Here is the first paragraph:
Even the faintest gleam of sunlight, and the shortest period of freedom, are inexpressibly welcome to a prisoner. Now we are all prisoners; we are shut in doors by an inclement season; we live six months in fear and trembling; we dread the Winter air as we ought to dread the wrath to come. To a certain extent this feeling is justified, for our Winter storms are both disagreeable and exhausting. But we are generally our own jailers in this confinement; for the dread of the bad days lingers over the good ones, and keeps us from the freedom and sunshine that we can safely enjoy during nine-tenths of the Winter days. The injury this confinement works on our national health is certainly worth consideration; and every amusement that tends to bring us out-doors in the Winter should be practiced with persistent enthusiasm. Walking is without question the exercise that is the best, the safest and the most practicable, for everybody. Anybody who can walk can dissipate the gloom of Winter, enliven his blood till it tingles, and secure buoyant health and vigor. In a word, the walker can enjoy all the benefits of out-door life on the snow just as well as on the turf or gravel.
C.H.F. The New York Times, 1897.
In New York City, if there is a spate of atypically warm weather in the winter, people respond instantly, and for a brief period of time, it's like winter never existed. Out come the people in dress and with the accoutrement of spring and summer. Street performers, vendors, sitting on park benches, sunbathing, picnicking, reading, Frisbee - virtually every warm weather activity can be found.
On our recent run of warm weather last weekend, the Baby Soda Jazz Band appeared, performing their eclectic street jazz with influences ranging from New Orleans brass bands, jug music, southern gospel, and jazz. The music was infectious, and people took to literally dancing in the streets (or in the park).
Of course there are wonderful winter activities and holidays, and the prudent person does well to embrace the season, not resist it. For now, though, I choose to resist as long as possible and join the dancers in the streets :)