Here is another thing I did not know before I moved from Texas to Boston: Northeastern winters require constant calibration.
In west Texas, winter is short and fairly consistent: chilly and (mostly) dry, with occasional cutting winds that sweep down from Canada, whipping around the corners of buildings and rattling the bare branches of shrubs and trees. There is the occasional ice storm, and also the rare 60-degree day, mild and blue-skied with actual warmth emanating from the sun. But mostly, the days call for a single strategy: don a jacket, turn the furnace up a little, hang on until spring.
In the Northeast, winter comprises an entire spectrum of cold: crisp and dry; bone-chillingly damp; mild and warmed by a pale sun; dark and windy and wet. It requires an entire wardrobe of proper gear: coats, hats, boots, gloves. Especially if you have to get out in it every day (I do), it demands serious attention and adjustment.
I keep a close eye on the weather all year long: I am my parents’ daughter, the descendant of farmers who watched the sky for their livelihood. I am also an inveterate sky-watcher for the beauty, for the deep breath it always prompts me to take, and for the way it helps me feel the movement of the earth in my bones.
Once winter hits, though, my monitoring of the forecast becomes downright obsessive. And it’s amazing what a difference a few degrees, precipitation (or the lack of it), or wind (or the lack of it) can make.
Last week, we had our first true cold snap of this winter: 10 degrees with a windchill below zero Fahrenheit when I left the house on Tuesday morning. I’d checked my weather app and calibrated accordingly: fleece-lined tights, leather gloves, knee-length hooded down coat. By the time the highs crept back up into the 40s, later in the week, I could make do with a wool coat and ankle boots, since it wasn’t snowing. One afternoon, I even stole a few minutes in the sun on the steps of Memorial Church – before the wind started blowing, it felt downright (relatively) balmy.
It can feel like a small triumph to shed a layer or wear a cute pair of shoes when the mercury rises just a few degrees. Similarly, it makes sense to keep a wool hat in my work bag all winter long, and check the forecast daily for snow or sleet. This week, we’ve had two dustings of snow – so it’s back to the down coat and snow boots. But I am quietly rejoicing that the sky is now cobalt, not indigo or pitch black, when I leave work in the afternoon.
We’re only a few weeks into winter (especially since December was shockingly mild). The memory of last winter is still sharp and vivid, and I’m hoping (possibly against all reason) for a less brutal time this year. But no matter what happens, I’ll be watching the forecast. And calibrating.