Wintering over in Vermont

By Gay Reagan | Contributor

Summer on Thompson’s Point always seems a long way away in early January. Today, January 4, 2016, Charlotte has had its first real snow and cold. I know lots of retired Vermonters go south for the winter, but I have liked to test my interior spaces by wintering over in January and February.

IMG_0131I confess in the winter I am creaky in the morning. I don’t pop out of bed. I lay there and contemplate, sometimes for twenty minutes. I use mindfulness, a scanning technique taught by Jean White in my Charlotte yoga class, to assess how my body is doing. Where did that sore neck come from? Well, at least the knees seem to be better. But OW! What’s that grab of pain on the left side of my back? Shoveling snow off my driveway? The thought of a hot shower with water pounding on my stiff neck and back gets me out of bed. A quick mental search reminds me that it’s Monday and I have yoga and lunch at the Charlotte Senior Center followed by a meeting of my writing group. The day will be fine whether the sun appears or not.

I remember back to an email from my son Ken Miller who wrote on February 23, 2015, from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Speaking of spring, we are in the midst of a classic Southern Spring. This week has been sunny and in the seventies. The daffodils are up. The cherry trees are blooming. The grass has begun to green, and chirping birds and frogs are everywhere. Having checked the weather forecast in VT, where it is still mid-winter and sub-zero, I ask that you accept this not as a gloat, but rather information about the alternative life some of us are living.” If this was not a gloat, it was at least a suggestion that I was crazy to spend all winter in Vermont.

This email got me thinking about why I don’t mind wintering over in spite of moments of longing for summer. For one thing, I like the physical space of the Shelburne town house that I moved into several years ago. I left a farmhouse on a rural Hinesburg road and moved into bright, airy space in a village setting. On those gray days when I feel the darkness compressing the air and dissolving away the light, I now turn on my lamps and gas fireplace and feel cozy and warm. No more hauling firewood and regularly losing electricity, because all of the wires are buried here. In this cheery space I have more time to read, write and cook for friends. Winter is the time I do my indoor projects. I get pictures out of dusty boxes and put them in an album. Then I write stories about my family for my children and grandchildren. Every few days I get cabin fever and call a friend to see a movie, have a bite to eat, listen to a lecture or see a play or concert. I rarely feel bored, partly because, intellectually, Burlington is a rich place to live.

I find that I need exercise to hold off the winter blahs. I no longer ski, but if there is decent snow I will put on my snowshoes and walk in the nearby woods in Shelburne or on the unplowed roads on Thompson’s Point. I also travel down to Middlebury to play indoor tennis with my buddies, all of us in our seventies. Some of us still run and some do short sprints reaching the ball about half the time. My tennis friends are not competitive, and we are quick to praise any good shot that we are lucky enough to pull off. We laugh a lot. The combination of exercise and laughter clears out my brain, even when my body hurts.
I have to confess that my computer gets used more in the winter. It is a major way that I communicate with my children and grandchildren. I catch up with their busy lives more often through emails and pictures rather than phone calls. I also write and edit my stories on my computer. I have a love-hate relationship with my aging Dell. I have no intuitive sense of how computer programs work, so when something goes wrong, I panic.

Eventually some friend rescues me unless I have really messed up and then it gets trotted off to a professional to sort it out. I have more exasperating moments fussing over my computer than I do dealing with the aftermath of a snowstorm.

When March comes I know that I will start missing spring. Sometimes I escape in March or April to find spring somewhere else. Our Vermont summer, however, is closer. In May I start opening our summer camp on Thompson’s Point—that is, if all the sewage connections have not frozen up like last year after our bitterly cold winter. Meanwhile, I hope to winter over quite comfortably again this year with the help of friends, family and community. I am grateful to be where I am, even in the winter.