Winter came early for two thirds of country this week when the dreaded polar vortex dipped into the United States from Canada. Here in Wisconsin, news of the polar vortex’s arrival was followed by my friends on Facebook cursing the current onset of the cold. Every year this happens, and includes a few people I know swearing this will be their last winter in the Midwest. And every so often, someone actually manages to leave America’s tundra for a warmer climate. Almost invariably during the following winter, they chime in saying “Thank god I don’t live there anymore!”
For me, I love it. Although autumn is my favorite season, I have a lot of appreciation for winter. I prefer bracing cold over sweltering heat. Stout is my favorite type of beer, and its thick creamy body is perfect for when the frigid temperature plummets below zero. I am not an outdoorsy person, and winter provides an excuse to wrap myself in a fleece blanket and read while drinking a stout.
But this is a blog about writing. And to me, the winter is the perfect time to write. Obviously winter keeps us indoors more than usual. Any temptations to leave my carefully constructed writing cocoon fall by the wayside after I look out my window.
Besides winter locking me in my home, I think there is a deeper connection between winter and the art of storytelling. Human beings have been dealing with winter ever since our species left Africa tens of thousands of years ago. Before indoor heating was perfected, I imagine people spent numerous hours during the winter huddled around a fire with family and friends. Gossip about a family nearby, a village elder, or that idiot who can’t even string a bow correctly might last a week or two at best. Rehashing family and tribal history could bleed some more time. But sooner or later, there would be nothing more to talk about. And there, staring into the jumping flames, people would start to weave the seeds of stories into myths and legends.
Beyond small groups of people clustered around a fire in past, winter’s landscape is barren compared to the rest of the year. When I see a forest during the winter, I am usually struck how still it has become. Gusts of wind brushing against tree branches replace echoing bird calls or the effervescent hum from bugs. The only traces an animal are usually solitary tacks left by a fox or a dog. Even in the city, people amble from one place to the next, spending as little time as possible exposed to the elements while hazardous conditions on the roadways curtail traffic.
It’s among winter’s desolate scenery I feel the need to create something. When the world is quiet and my senses are impoverished is the best time to forge something new. Because it is November, I decided to try my hand at National Novel Writing Month. And as my luck would have it, winter obliged me by showing up early. Though recently I’ve wondered why NaNoWriMo is held in November; a month full of distractions. November’s calendar is cluttered with Thanksgiving, beginning the Christmas shopping season, and football. It is also the last time for most of the country to experience the outdoors before winter creeps to their doorstep.
January seems a more appropriate month to ask people to sacrifice a lion’s share of their free time to write. After New Year’s, January is a quiet month. Winter already has a firm grip on a large swath of the country, which leaves plenty of time to reflect on fresh beginnings. And to start weaving stories like our ancestors did, though with the campfire replaced by a laptop’s dim glow.