Shades of White

snowy corn field and woods

snowy corn field and woods

Winter has been long this year.  Long and cold.  The snow began before Thanksgiving and has barely let up at all.  We haven’t had as much of it as some years, but it has been steady.  And the air has been colder than normal, with many, many days that start with a temperature below zero and struggle to reach into double digits.

While all of that sounds a little unpleasant for the non-winter lovers like me, the thing that really gets to me is the constant view of white, with just a twinge of gray and brown from time to time.  The freshly fallen snow starts out white.  But as soon as a plow thrusts it up off the street the edges turn brown with the mud from the pavement kicked up to the top.  Then, after it sits for a day or so the entire scene becomes a pale shade of gray, maybe with rims of darker gray or brown.  Snow turns ugly in a hurry.

And it’s not just the ground that’s covered in white – it is the sky.  There is a perpetual cloud cover, either white or pale gray.  The neutrals go on forever, switching from bright white to off white to beige, to tan, to gray.  Even our cars, caked with a thin layer of road salt, look white all winter.  Or gray.

It’s not the elegance of a bridal white, and it doesn’t carry the warmth of a white sand beach.  It’s a cold, harsh, glaring, soulless white.  Sunglasses are required to cut the glare of the bland beige, creating an image that is just darker shades of the same gray or tan.

Winter wardrobes often reflect these neutrals – shades of brown, gray, and tan, with an occasional “winter white” thrown in.  We try to pick up the pace a little, tossing on a red coat, a bright blue sweater, or a green or pink scarf.  But even these pops of color can look drab after wearing them month after month.

Here in Western New York we are a hearty bunch.  A six inch snowfall would bring some parts of the country to a standstill for a week.  Here, we simply brush it off the car, shovel the driveway, and head to work or school.  Our streets get plowed and salted, and we move on.  Many people enjoy (yes, actually enjoy) winter sports including skiing – downhill or cross country, hockey, snowshoeing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling.

a rare blue sky day

a rare blue sky day

I have never been a winter sports enthusiast.  The idea of careening downhill at 60 miles an hour with two boards strapped to my feet never appealed to me.  We used to do a little cross country skiing, but not much.  I would consider snowshoes, but only on those rare blue sky days when the outdoors actually looks inviting.

Occasionally, we are favored with a bright, sunny winter day.  The days when the sky turns a pale or even a blessed bright blue are music for the eyes.  We cherish those few winter days when the white snow glistens under the azure sky.  They don’t come often enough.  Winter would be easier to take if we had more frequent glimpses of sunshine.  There are few things more beautiful than the contrast between the pale snow and an indigo sky.  Against the backdrop of our lakes, pine trees, and deciduous branches, the distinction of the colors is stunning.  Those are the photo worthy days.  The days when my eyes need to capture the beauty through a lens to preserve it.  Those too few days of winter sunshine must be saved to sustain us through the numerous white-gray-brown days of a five month long winter.

Otherwise, for me, the best winter activity is curling up on the sofa with a warm beverage and a good book; facing away from the window to avoid the white, and counting down the days ‘til spring.

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