Looking at summer through snow-covered glasses

By John Kelly
Tuesday, July 6, 2010; B02

If you are reading this, it must be summer. But I'm writing it in the dead of winter with a note to myself to break it out during a particularly vicious D.C. heat wave.

Winter is a season that many of us look forward to. It's the season of Dickens: icicles like nature's crystal chandeliers, windowpanes painted with delicate traceries of frost, ruddy-cheeked faces, sledding, a crackling fire, cups of hot cocoa, marshmallows bobbing like tiny life preservers in a mocha sea.

God, how I hate it.

The winter of 2009-10 quickly transformed from Dickens to Dante. As I write this, the snow has gone from pleasant meringue to unpleasant slush, a sort of frozen sludge that informs every decision you make: what to wear, how to travel, where to walk.

My street has been plowed, and we haven't lost power, so I must count myself lucky. And yet the view out my window is not one of Alpine charm. It looks more like an Alaskan village as seen in a PBS documentary about rampant alcoholism at the edge of civilization: ramshackle, dirty, desperate. All that's missing are some seal entrails and a few burned-out snowmobiles.

(I mean no offense to Alaskans. I have newfound respect for their unwillingness to romanticize winter.)

The great weight of the snow has toppled the two evergreens that once flanked our front door. For days, I've been watching -- impotent yet entranced -- as one downspout became encased in ice. Some combination of sunlight, roof pitch and the incremental melt-freeze cycle has caused ice to build up around it, layer by layer, turning it into a shimmering, adamantine column.

Yesterday that shimmering, adamantine column tore away from the house. It lies bent, across an uprooted evergreen. I can see now that ice was forming not only around the outside of the downspout, but on the inside, too. I have the world's largest popsicle.

A maze of narrow aisles -- precisely one snow shovel-width wide -- leads away from the house. One vehicle has been cleared of snow, but the other is still entombed in the driveway like a post-Vesuvius Pompeian oxcart. That driveway is imperfectly cleared, a patchwork of bare pavement and hip-shattering ice.

Things are no better inside the house. Spread out by the front door is a mosaic of bath towels, our attempt to contain the chaos that swirls when we doff our boots. Grit is underfoot everywhere, road salt and ice melt and sand that we've tracked in. We swept it up at first, but now we can't be bothered. We feel it in our socks, see it scratched into our hardwood floors.

The house seems too small. I feel bloated and slothlike, for the freak ice age has tripped some primal switch in my brain. I refuse to eat salad. Winter has made me switch to a diet rich in Ho Hos and nachos, foods designed to produce a potentially lifesaving layer of insulating blubber.

It seems as if winter will never end. This is not a cold spell or a serving of a "wintry mix." This seems like the new reality, the Earth locked in a different orbit, our hemisphere turned from the sun. I can honestly say I don't remember what spring is like.

I can't wait till summer, even summer in Washington.

And so I write this column to read in deepest, hottest summer -- when the air is thick and gauzelike and heat radiates from the sidewalk like discharge from a blast furnace -- to keep myself from saying: "God, I hate summer. I can't wait till winter."

Send a Kid to Camp

Where better to chill out during a heat wave than in the country? Drive out I-66, and once you get past the asphalt of exurbia, the thermometer drops a good 10 degrees. There you will find Markham, Va., and a place called Camp Moss Hollow. A hundred kids at a time go there during the summer, trading the warmth of Washington for the coolth of camp.

You can help support this camp for needy kids by mailing a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" to P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C., 20090-6237. Or contribute by going to http://www.washingtonpost.com/camp and clicking on the donation link. To use MasterCard or Visa by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on our taped message.

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