The Dark Side of Winter

how loving winter means accepting the gritty parts

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Shannon Sorenson

Let’s get one thing straight, Chuck. I like winter. I like winter a lot. And I think all you Wisconsinites out there who complain about the snow and the cold and the ice and the, um, ... snow ... all of you need to hand in your laminated, cow-shaped Wisconsin membership badges. You people should be ashamed of yourselves. And you should move to some other country where it hardly gets cold, like Mexico or Egypt or Texas. I love winter, and I can’t stand to have you curse its name. You and all your moms are stupid.

However. The recent warm temperatures have reminded me of something: snow is gross.

When I look out my window – cracked slightly open so as to smell the sweet smells of false spring – my gaze falls to the snow banks along the street. These aren’t the glistening, pristine miniature snow mountains of yore, my friends.These things are ugly.

Now is the time when true Winterites are separated from the poseurs – when the clean snow is separated from the yellow snow, if you catch my drift. (Trust me, it makes sense.)

Unless you live smack in the middle of the Snowflake Forest – where instead of cars, people travel in silver sleighs pulled by caribou-kangaroo hybrids, and instead of rock salt, people keep their sidewalks clear by wishing happy little wishes – you may have noticed that things are getting downright mucky. And this is when one’s love of winter is truly tested.

Here in the city, our snowbanks are stained brown with street grim. Our pant cuffs are stained white with the salty juice of slushy sidewalks. Our shoes and socks and even our dry, replacement shoes and socks are soaking wet. 

It’s a challenge to love winter in times like these, letting your loving embrace linger atop a pile of cold mud. No amount of ice skating and hot chocolate will clean up those snowbanks. No amount of sledding and snow-sculpting will remove all the street salt. And what’s going to dry out your slushy socks? It’s not like someone’s invented a magical moisture-evaporating machine for clothing.

It takes the heart of a lion to withstand these annoying conditions – a lion who grew up near Rice Lake drinking Milwaukee’s Best while playing sheepshead in an ice-fishing shack painted green and gold with a set of deer antlers nailed up over the door. And the hearts of lions like that seem hard to come by when the snow turns beige.

Sure, you could just wear a blindfold until our next snowfall, hoping enough fluff falls to cover up the filthy, crusty, old stuff, reseting your Winter Wonderland. But you can’t count on that. Once the snow stops falling for a week or two, and once the temperatures rise and the snow recedes, things appear. Dead leaves, water-logged gloves, raccoon carcasses. Rabbit crap as far as the eye can see. It’s very distracting.

Me? It’s often hard to keep my passion for winter burning through these down and dirty stretches.* I find myself wishing for spring. But somehow, I manage to do it year after year. Somehow, I accept the dirty snow. I keep my feet dry. I wash the salt from my pants. I focus on the parts I like. And I look forward to a few more snowstorms. 

Now that February is here, I wish you luck, fine people of the Chippewa Valley. We’re all in this together. 

All of our gross, wet socks are in this together.


*And this is coming from a guy whose employer maintains a decidedly pro-winter agenda.