I've talked before on this blog about how I grew up in really poverty-ridden circumstances. Our house could barely be called a shelter, with its open holes to the ground, and its bare insulation and plywood ceilings. Winters were atrocious for me to endure as a kid. We had no water, no electricity, and winter was one big nightmare of no baths and hardly any food. By January we were always resorting to our stockpile of potatoes from that summer. The only heating was a lopsided and very old wood heater and it was barely enough on some days. Keep in mind we were not only taking care of ourselves, but also around 300 chickens, 10 horses, and 20 dogs. There were still chores to be done. My rubber boots were leaky and I remember taking them off and putting my wet socks by the heater to thaw--they were frozen to the point that they stood up on their own in the shape of my feet.
I slept in a "mummy bag" that my dad got from who knows where. At night it was cold enough that when I crawled into it, I felt like I had just stepped into cold water. It took hours of shivering for me to heat up the bag and fall asleep at night. Some winters I went days without anything but meager water, and if I was lucky enough I bathed with heated water once a month. Chopping and loading and unloading wood, feeding the horses, de-thawing the watering containers for the chickens...it all took hours. I can't really remember doing anything else in the coldness of winter, other than Christmas and then work, work, work, work, and more work.
Winters in Tennessee are nightmarish--on the east side, anyway. In the Appalachian mountains, the humidity plus the low temperatures produce not beautiful white fluffy snow, but ice and slush. We were commonly victims of "ice storms" where freezing rain would settle on the trees and cause them to be crushed under the intense weight. It was not uncommon to hear of families losing their homes and even their lives to the fallen trees. As a result, we had to sleep in our full clothes (two pairs of pants, two shirts, coat, socks, and shoes) and be ready for anything. I remember staying up at night and hearing the creaking, crashing and groaning of the trees in the forest around us. I used to imagine that they were giants, and that one misstep would cause them to fall and crush us all to death.
Needless to say I wanted nothing to do with winter, ever. My dad used to turn into an entirely different person in the winter, as well. He grew even more sullen and melancholy than he already was, and his bright (and cruel) humor just turned cruel. His mind shifted into work and survival mode and the rest of us followed suit. Mom, who I believed at the time was of course influenced by her "rich" upbringing, tried to get us to see the beauty of snow. She thought it was pretty and always referenced Christmas cards in the beauty of it. I was on my Dad's side. Fuck the snow, fuck winter, fuck all of it, who needs that? It was a cumbersome hindrance and nothing more. Then there's the fact that one of my great-grandmothers actually froze to death in the house we lived in....that was always a nice quaint reminder of what the winter could do.
When I moved to Utah, I retained my disgust of winter. Why wouldn't I? I scoffed and still scoff at those who enjoy winter sports, I shut myself in for months at the first sign of fall, and it's taken all of almost seven years for my stubborn outlook to change. My views as a child were not out of spite or jealousy or misunderstanding...I was in survival mode and snow is no good company for survival. We got our first snowstorm yesterday and I went out in it to get some photographs, which I succeeded at, and being in the snow made me so happy. It was majestic, beautiful, calm, serene, and at the same time a reminder of the brute force and harsh enigma that is Nature. But every time I enjoy snow, I think about those who are trapped in it...those people and animals who are doing everything in their power to just survive. Sometimes I feel like I don't belong to this world, the world of people who enjoy snow and play in it and photograph it. Sometimes I feel like I belong with the survivors, because that's what I am and who I grew up with.
All in all, it's a very lost feeling, and maybe that's why I get so sad in winter.