Reading the Winter Away
As midwinter envelops us in its cold and desolate embrace, I am finding it more and more challenging to keep my focus on the tasks at hand. I don’t know if it is the endless stretches of gray sky, the ever present threat of the flu, or the meteorologists’ tiresome banter about the polar vortex, but I am exhausted.
Hibernation is starting to look like a good plan. But, alas, we humans don’t have the option of curling up in some out-of-the-way corner and napping until spring.
If I cannot have the bliss of winter oblivion, what I would like most in the world right now is a few days of uninterrupted, guilt-free couch time. Instead of a cozy cave or tree trunk, I’d make a den of blankets and pillows. I’d stock my larder with tea and honey and biscuits, light a fire, and make sure I had an endless supply of good books.
When I was a kid, I often lost days between the covers of a good book. With no other pressing concerns to distract me, I surrendered willingly to the story and let the real world slip quietly out of the room.
Our living room was dominated by a monstrous sofa that was upholstered in a deep gold velour that could only have existed in the seventies. This beast could swallow you whole, drawing you deep into the crevices between its quicksand cushions, but I didn’t care. As long as I had a book to keep me company, I was content to disappear for hours at a time.
I read wintry adventures that let me experience the magic and majesty of the season without risking frostbite or even cold toes. I read summer stories that immersed me in the smell of cherry blossoms and the sound of babbling brooks. I read about battles and romances, mysteries and discoveries, admirable heroes and dastardly villains.
I read the midwinter blues away, banishing the frigid, bleak days from my mind one page at a time.
Now that I am a grown-up with a daughter of my own, I have plenty of responsibilities gnawing ceaselessly at each hour of my day. Afternoons curled up with a good book have become endangered nearly to the point of becoming myth, but – like a monster hunter who has caught a glimpse of Big Foot – I’m not giving up on proving their existence.
And I know just the bait that will lure my quarry into the open.
Recapturing the feeling of falling into another world comes easier when the world in question is a familiar one filled with old friends. So, I have put aside my grown-up books in favor of the stories that cast such a lingering spell on my youth.
I have pulled some old favorites from my bookshelves and borrowed others from the library. The house already feels a little warmer and seems a little brighter as a result of this reunion.
Winnie-the-Pooh was the first to arrive, along with all his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood. Bilbo Baggins showed up shortly afterwards with an anxious look about him and an appetite that belied his domestic nature. The peculiar yet charming creatures from Moominland trooped in together, led by Moomintroll and ready for all kinds of adventure and philosophical wonderings.
Lesser known characters are beginning to come forward as well – the maiden turned doe (or, was it doe turned maiden?) from James Thurber’s The White Deer; Tangle and Mossy from George MacDonald’s beautiful fairytale, The Golden Key; and Jerold from Jane Yolen’s snowy masterpiece, The Wild Hunt.
As each guest arrives, I feel more and more at ease beneath the weight of the season’s chilly mantle. The days may pass slowly and my duties may be many, but as I find a moment here and there to commune with my old friends, I suddenly feel less like sleeping through the rest of winter. After all, I have to find out how the story ends.
This piece originally appeared as a column in The Ipswich Chronicle.