As you get older you find you can no longer do things you could when you were younger. When I was in high school I could eat an entire pack of cheap hot dogs, buns and all, in one go. I could even scarf down a box of mac and cheese with those hot dogs. These days I barely get three hot dogs in before feeling over stuffed. This isn’t a bad thing though, I don’t need to be eating whole packs of hot dogs in one sitting. Reflecting on my childhood winters I’m amazed how much of a beating I could take from the cold and snow. Now when I go out in the winter, I chill much easier. Just like I can’t eat whole packs of hot dogs anymore, I can’t play in the Winter cold like I used to.
I grew up in a place called Sergeant Bluff. It’s a small city in the north-west corner of Iowa. It’s right next to Sioux City, which is where I usually tell people I’m from because there’s a higher chance you’ve heard of Sioux City than Sergeant Bluff.
The winters of my youth were consistent with some variation. Some years would have heavier snowfalls than others. But on the whole, Winter was that old reliable friend that visited every year.
Sergeant Bluff is technically a city but it’s weird to call it one. I could probably bike from one end to the other within an hour or less. I was raised by a single mom who needed to leave for work before I needed to leave for school, and apparently I was too close to the school to use the bus system, even though I lived on the other side of town. So I would either bike or walk to school. Obviously I would walk in the winter.
Winter molded me during those walks. We became close companions, Winter and I. I grew to weather Winter’s fierce cold. I rarely walked to school wearing more than jeans, a cheap winter coat, and a pair of gloves. If it was a particularly windy or cold day I might have a hat and face covering. On the coldest of days I would arrive with thighs like icicles that would take time to thaw once I reached my destination.
But my relationship with Winter didn’t end with me freezing my ass off walking to and from school. What childhood is complete in the MidWest without snow ball fights, building snowmen, and building snow forts?
And this is where my true hubris with Winter really shines. Rarely did I ever wear things like snow pants. I played in the snow with nothing more than a trusty pair of jeans. This was mostly down to the randomness of youth. Most of the time my winter fun would come about while walking home from school with friends or if I was hanging out at someone’s house.
If I was walking home with friends there was always the chance of a snowball fight. Especially if the snow was just right. That right combination of fluff and stickiness. These were spontaneous events and often enough I didn’t have the right gloves. About half the time I would just throw snowballs without gloves.
And do you think a no school day would keep me safe from Winter’s embrace? It didn’t. Even when school was canceled I would venture out and walk to hang out with my friends and the mischiefs of youth would follow.
I don’t remember if what followed was from a walk home or if I was already hanging out at my friend’s house. There was plenty of snow already on the ground and some more had started to come down. With nothing but jeans and a standard pair of gloves I went out to play in the snow, we built a little fort and crawled around in it. It was late afternoon and we were out there for about an hour or so. The sun was almost completely set before we stopped. I then walked home. I don’t remember feeling the cold. But when I got home my jeans were soaked in melted snow. I was very comfortable with Winter.
Ah, to frolic in the winter season as I used to. But things change, I grew up. I stopped having the time and space to play in the winter like I used to. I learned to drive, got a car. I was no longer forced to endure the cold. I became unaccustomed to the cold. Now whenever I go out into the cold of Winter I can’t stand it so much. Gone are those days when I could spend time outside and not be bothered by the cold passing through my laughably inadequate outfit for the season. I laugh now in my old age of thirty-one and think about how times have changed. I’ve grown old and can’t stand the cold no more.
But as I think about these changes I also think about how, oddly, Winter has changed too. It’s hard to describe, Winter as we know it is still there. Every year there is some snow, some ice, and some cold. And there are still blizzards. Just a feeling though, a feeling in my bones, that Winter has slowly changed. Winter’s reliable ebb and flow has wobbled a bit.
Winter I’m the mortal here! I’m the one that’s supposed to wither and die in the blink of an eye! Whole generations pass before you! Winter, my old friend, why do you look so tired? I never know when you’re coming or going anymore. And you never stay as long you used to. I know there were epochs on this world when you ruled it all and others when you just slept and let it be. Is this what it’s like before you go to sleep again? We get slow and tired too before we enter our eternal sleep. But you get to wake up again. Will any of our children be there when you wake up? Will anything of this world be around or will it all be new? The land I belong to has always known you. I should not be awake while you sleep.
Winter has changed, is changing, we know it is. Climate change is changing the world around us faster and faster each day. Every year we are seeing new record high temperatures. And global temperatures continue to rise. Winter will be with us for the foreseeable future but it will be become more chaotic. Our failure to tackle climate change is and will continue to sow chaos into every aspect of our world.
As I’ve grown older, environmentalism and tackling the challenges climate change brings has become more and more important to me. It isn’t easy any day. It’s become a balancing act of cynicism and hopelessness against trying to maintain optimism and fighting for the future.
When I remember the Winter of my youth it is coupled with a sense of carefreeness and boundless optimism that can only come from youth. The cold didn’t bother me because I was having too much fun! Every kid should have that. But as the negative effects of climate change creep ever more into our world, the chances for children to experience that lessens.
Famine due to the destruction of food sources, loss of home due to natural disasters, dealing with being a climate refuge, experiencing the violence around you as desperation leads to fighting over resources, experiencing extreme weather conditions. The list could go on and on. But it all leads to the loss of childhood that all should get to experience.
The loss of Winter. Nothing more than a memory moving further and further away. The loss of childhood glee, becoming harder and harder to pass on.
Winter I’m sad to see you go and I don’t like what’s coming over the horizon.