I had gone to bed the night before listening to snowflakes drifting into my window, like clouds of silver flies swarming mutely around a lit lamp. The light from the street lamp outside was flecked with the tiny of airborne ice, soft grey shadows against latte-white light. I wondered how many feet of snow I’d get tomorrow, my first winter day. I drew the sheets closer, falling asleep with a smile of warm anticipation, snug as a bug in a rug.
I got out of bed with a much less serene expression. The floor was cold, an unpleasant first- I’d never stepped on frigid carpet in my life. Was the radiator broken or something? I looked over at my roommate, still asleep in his warm blanket cocoon. Wouldn’t’ve killed him to crank up the temperature before bed last night would it? Ack, whatever. I’d be in the warm shower soon enough anyway, getting clean and toasty. It’ll definitely be all uphill from there on out- I’d get warm, bundle up in my new winter clothes and head on out to Holland’s magnificent winter wonderland. I’ll bet everyone’s out there chucking snowballs and sticking arms on snowmen, just like the movies said they would!
The movies lied. The sky loomed overhead like a floating mass of iron, heavy and grey. The tree branches bowed under the weight of a nights worth of snow, dead and bare as dry mummified corpses. A few delighted gasps escaped into the frozen air in warm clouds, accompanied by sharp hisses of surprise and whispered curses as people floundered on the icy sidewalk. Green grains of salt crackled underfoot like glass as I walked down the heated concrete, already feeling winters sharp bite. No snowmen in sight and everyone looked far too cold for any snowballing nonsense. What a magical morning this was going to be.
The sky is as cold and grey as a wet tombstone as I stomp my way across the rapidly disappearing greenery across the chapel. I’d learnt to stay off pavements pretty quickly- footing was still tricky work, even with the healthy helping of salt they’d sprinkled on the icy concrete like hard green sugar. The trees seemed to grimace painfully in the silent chill, icy branches frozen at sharp, uncomfortable angles like frostbitten hands. The squirrels had long since retired to their treetop winter lairs, hidden in secret fissures and cracks in the rough tree bark. All was still, save the muffled onward march of college students shuffling and stomping their way to class, kicking up sprays of snow and wreaths of warm air.
Going back into the warmth is an experience made bitter by the painful return of feeling to your digits and sweet by my grateful release from the layers of clothing I’d buried myself under that morning. The carpet glimmered and darkened in the places where icy boots had passed, leaving a snail trail of cold moisture in their wake. The chapel basement classrooms echoed with the excited chatter of students who’d woken to discover “campus covered in soft white frosting”, as the student to my right of the group circle put so poetically. “I LOVE snow!” she enthused as the professor shut the door behind him, trailing a snail trail of his own. He caught my silent scream of horror as he sat down, shooting me a quizzical grin, “What’s wrong Alex? It’s a beautiful day out there!”
The sun finally broke through the skies halfway through the class, bursting through the grey mass like a hot poker thrust through a fog. The stained glass windows flared to life, lighting the walls of the classroom up in a riot of green, red and blue hues like the lights on a carnival ride. A soft ripple of “ooh’s” and “aah’s” whooshed around the room like a warm breeze. “Glory be, here’s the sunshine cavalry!” I thought with an impatient huff of relief. “Maybe it’ll be a little warmer now the suns out!”
It wasn’t. A wide swathe of crystal blue sky streaked across the horizon, bathing the whitened grounds with sunlight devoid of warmth. The snow glittered with a prickly, beautiful malevolence, as trillions of tiny ice fragments twinkled merrily in the sun. The air hung as lifeless as a mounted trophy, cold and unmoving. I walked down the salted path back to my dorm room, occasionally sliding on a sludgy patch of pavement with a hissed expletive. I could already feel my fingers stiffening in my pockets and was already becoming aware of the tips of my ears again. Could have sworn it got even colder after the sun came out just to spite me. Barely halfway through the day and I’d already begun hating this terrible, deadening season. How could anyone bear to exist in an environment that actively spent every moment trying to kill every warm-blooded creature in it? Well then again, that’s probably what people here say about the warm, humid tropics. I made a silent pact with myself to spend every moment soaking in Africa’s glorious sun if I survived this winter day.
I fell asleep at my desk and dreamt of sunlit beaches halfway around the world. I dreamt of mellow sea breezes, the distant pulse of afrobeats echoing over the wind-sculpted sand. And of the sun- full and blindingly radiant, riding high in the cloudless afternoon sky. Light so warm and nurturing your skin felt smoother and silkier just drinking it in. The thunder of the cool grey ocean, pawing playfully at the shore with shaggy paws of sea foam before raking them back in its ancient, ceaseless rhythm. All along the coastline families played amongst the waves, swimming against the tides, splashing saltwater around or simply lying down on the shore, rocking gently in the seas rough embrace. Water rushed between my toes, as warm as….soft wool? I look up, startled; the swaying palm trees now groaned and sagged under the weight of snow, crackling electrically in the setting sun. The sun, so triumphantly high in the blue sky now dipped meekly below a horizon streaked with deep violet and ember-red light. A cold, metallic moon now hung in its place, emanating a halo of pale silver light as a blinding flurry of snow smothered the silent ocean in white….
I woke up grumpy, my feet still shuffling slowly in my damp wool socks, the nightmarish Ghanaian coast still fresh in my mind. There was no refuge from winters cold embrace, even in my sleep. It would haunt me, wiggling its pale blue fingers into every room and under every layer of warmth I hid under. It would always be out there, a leering golem of frost and numbness, waiting to ambush me at the door with a gentle gust of icy wind, sneaking a few stray flakes of ice down my shirt. Oh what a jolly season this was going to be!
Still, it wasn’t all bad- leave it to a guy from the tropics to pout and grumble about a bit of yearly frost! There were snowball fights, fought in the midst of a mild snowstorm with friends and strangers alike. There were snowmen, a rather a rather imposing 12 foot tall snowman, built on the snow-covered greenery in front of the Kletz, where it sat well into spring. And with winter came Christmas and all the hearty cheer with family it brings. Theres a lot I should be thankful to winter for- for all the friends, memories and experiences it brought in its icy wake…though I could do with a bit less snow next year.