When I first moved to a suburb of Washington, D.C., in 2009, I looked forward to a winter season that was two months shorter than the ones I had known.
I enjoyed autumn warmth that lasted well into November, and spring flowers that bloomed in early March. Most years, our shoveling days were few.
After nine years of such mildness, my winter instincts grew soft. I started to think that 20 degrees was cold, and that 6 inches of snow was a lot.
I forgot what it was like to have my eyelashes freeze, to live among snow drifts that linger for months on end. More than that, I forgot what it means to lean into the wind, drive through the snow, and brag about it later.
I wasn’t always this way. I grew up in Kenosha, and I recall winters in the late 70s that were so severe people had t-shirts printed about surviving the blizzards.
One January storm fell on my birthday when I had a little-kid party scheduled. Remarkably, our family gave me the option of going forward with it. Some of my friends were snowed-in. Dad drove around Kenosha and picked up the remaining few kids who could dig out.
Somewhere inside me is that girl, pretty-much born in a snowbank, undeterred by windchill factors.
Moving home to Kenosha last year, I expected to find winter challenging. I knew I’d have to relearn my winter survival know-how. But I didn’t expect to like it so much.
I didn’t know how much I needed it, or how beautiful winter here would be.
After the deep freeze in January, Lake Michigan at Eichelman Park froze in time, like someone sculpted the waves from a thousand glass window panes. The surface undulated, and the water underneath roared like a train.
The days are short, but when the sun hits an expanse of snow, there is so much light it hurts to look. The darkest part of the year can also be its brightest.
Earlier in the season, I let sub-zero temperatures and icy sidewalks keep me indoors. On the weekends, I went out to clear the driveway with a shovel or my newly-bought snowblower, and then went back inside, cozy on the couch, knitting and binge-watching episodes of The Waltons.
But over the weeks, I started to reclaim my inner midwestern can-do-ness. I invested in some gear — a balaclava, some wind pants, and those grippers that go on the outside of your shoes. Now, I don’t let the weather stop me.
I rose early on a recent February morning, assembled my winter-wear, and headed outside for a 5-mile walk.
It was 4 degrees with windchill. More snow was falling on already icy sidewalks, so I had to watch my step. The fronts of my legs got cold despite my extra layers. The wind off the lake hit my face.
Still, I kept walking, and I couldn’t have been happier.
I’m from Wisconsin. Winter isn’t hard. It’s what we do.
Amy Ambrose writes this column monthly.