When you pass the halfway mark in life it means new stuff tends more and more to remind you of old stuff. You hear echoes.
This evening, standing on my back porch, after the first snowfall of our very long snowfall seasons, the cold had that familiar snap and bite I remember from the few winters I spent in Vermont as a college kid coming home for the holidays. It was only three holiday seasons actually, 1974-76. My folks moved there in the summer of 1974 and I was married in late 1976.
Anyway, I remember the cold there because all my life up until then had been in Maryland where winter is cold but not frigid. Arriving there from St. Louis where I was a student my breath fairly froze on my lips the first time I breathed the local air. At the house I marveled at the frost forming on the inside of windows and the roar of the winter wind. Any romance I had about snowy mountains cracked like an icicle.
Over time, though, I adapted. Being in my early 20s I did not feel the cold quite so deeply then as I do now.
What I remember this evening, the echo that tingles the edge of memory's ear is a morning back then, after a great snowfall, when the sun was wildly bright against the snow. Mother sent me out to shovel the area from outside the door of the mud room (New England term for the air lock one enters in winter to put off wet and muddy boots before actually stepping into the house itself) to the kitchen porch around the corner. Not a long way, but it was a handsome snowfall of about a foot. Serious work.
I was bundled well, and booted, my hands mittened and head encased in toque and scarf. But in only minutes I was unwrapping the scarf as my breath steamed, and then I was loosening the top of the coat, then taking off the hat, then even the coat, as the work made me so warm I was sweating in the cold morning air.
When it was over I marveled at how warm I was standing outside on that Vermont January day. I could feel the sunlight on my face and see straight up to it through a sky swept clean of moisture and haze, so blue no paint or pixel could match it.
Those skies are still there, now and then. And the snow of course. But perspiration in the snow, that is gone. Back then I was so young and vital that my body could literally ignore winter.
Maybe that is why the only thing I anticipate with pleasure in winter is snow shoveling. Bizarre on the face of it, I know. But sometimes, even when my hips mock me and my hamstrings refuse to stretch, I can feel a little trickle of sweat on my back and at my brow. The coat stays on and the gloves, but even now there are days when I doff the hat because it is too warm.
And for a brief while the blood runs as hot as it did back then, radiating like a stove, and life burns its way up from the belly as if reaching for its source and cousin, the sun.
Not so often now, nor so easily. But it does happen. And I wipe my forehead with my sleeve and stomp the snow from my boots and walk back into the house as juicy and alive as I was in 1975.