Last week we had two days of spring weather in New York. This was less than two weeks after a snowstorm that had many office workers working from home.
Over Presidents Day weekend, I was upstate at the Mohonk Mountain House on a family vacation. My father-in-law and I decided to try our hand at skiing. Although we were skiing novices, we did well and zipped along on the daring Huguenot ski trail. As we made our way up a hillside, we came across an employee of the property who was maintaining the trails with a snowmobile. He noted that the snow was starting to soften so he was glad to be near the end of his rounds. We were lucky to have taken the opportunity to ski when we had it; the warm weather made the ski and snowshoe trails more difficult to use the following days. One day when we went to the outdoor ice rink, we found it closed with the ice having melted.
This past Saturday I took my two older daughters to a local playground and we spent most of our time outside with no jackets on at all. I was outdoors for an hour wearing nothing heavier than a short-sleeve cotton t-shirt and I was fine. The back of my big bald head even got a little sunburned.
In the office where I work, a few weeks ago some of my coworkers were using space heaters to help stay warm. This past week we opened the windows and even ran one of the air conditioners on the fan setting to circulate air. Two days I went to work without a coat (wore blazer jacket because I had meetings and because it’s still winter, damn it).
Isn’t this nice? Was the popular refrain, to which I say, “No!”
Please allow me to dump refreshingly cold water on your optimism. I may be a curmudgeon but I’m right. It’s not healthy for our part of the world to have 70-degree weather in January. If this were Florida or parts of the South or Southwest it would be another story. But February is for winter weather.
One of the benefits of living in the Northeast is getting to experience all the seasons fully. We get the best fall foliage in the world and a pleasant spring; we have both very hot summers and (usually) very cold winters.
Maybe a rare Spring-like day here and there is no big deal, but this kind of thing is happening with increased regularity and that’s not good. And I don’t mean for first-world problems like slushy ski trails and cranky middle-aged office workers. We need our seasons to keep our life in the balance it needs to be. Real-world important stuff like health and agriculture are thrown for a loop when temperatures spike unexpectedly.
I hate the heat and would rather stand in the cold until my face is hardened into a red, wind-burned grimace than be the summer sweat hog I become every year. I understand the weather gets warm and I adapt to that as best I can. At least let me have my winter.
What this may also indicate is that this year may be another record warm year and that we are due for another long, hot summer.
It is the middle of February and my smart phone tells me that it’s a balmy 13˚F (-10.5˚C) degrees outside with a “real feel” of -17˚F (-27.2˚C). Walking outside was painful today and the wind is howling fiercely. It’s a yearly tradition to have days like these. Winter is not complete without at least one heavy snowfall and several days when the weather chills you to the bone.
We’re getting a true winter in the Northeast this year. No spring-like conditions should be welcome before mid-March. Some of the winter traditions can be done away with. Especially here in New York City, some of the lesser traditions include mountains of polluted snow, deceptive slush, walls of hard-packed plow snow, black ice, and transit mishaps.
The cold makes people tougher. You won’t get any increase in toughness from standing around in the sun. You may get sun-burned and skin cancer, but you’ll not improve yourself at all. The cold can kill you like the heat can, but coming in from the cold leaves you energized and glad for the warmth of the indoors. Coming in from a hot day leaves you slimy with sweat and smelling badly.
Every winter in New York has at least a few periods where the cold is biting and painful. Even for those of us with a high tolerance for the frigid, these times in winter are a step beyond our comfort zone. It’s important not to shrink from that. That’s not to say you should dedicate a few fingers or other bodily extremities to frostbite to truly experience the winter, but get out there and let the wind punch you in the face a few times. You’ll be glad you did.
Moving to a place where they don’t have a real winter is a bit of cop-out at life. We who live through the winters are better for it. There’s no reason to surrender toughness for the soft ease of the tropics. The sun-drenched climes have their place, but to not really experience all the seasons is not experiencing all of life. New York is lucky because it has all four seasons. There’s no weather that the earth can throw at the city that it has not survived. New York has survived hurricanes and snow blizzards and heat waves, sometimes all in the same year. And it will do it again, guaranteed.
States that are colder tend to have populations with higher IQs, research has shown. Those nations with consistently colder climates over the past few thousand years have produced some of the world’s most peaceful and democratic societies. Do you know what country has the longest-serving democratic parliament? Iceland. What country is doing better right now: Norway or Nigeria? Canada or Brazil?
Enjoy the cold weather because in a few short months it is going to be hot and miserable. Much of the Northeast that endures a frigid winter is not spared the humid suffering of summer. The cold will make you stronger. The cold kills off the weak and gives strength to the strong. Embrace the cold because you embrace life itself.