Sportscasters are fond of reminding us that the Redskins are the only singular item that ties this town together. I would add that winter runs a close second -- we all agree how disagreeable it is. Well, almost all agree. I occasionally have a slip of the tongue and my opinion falls on unbelieving ears: I like winter. This statement of intimacy with the weather sets me apart from just about everyone I know.
My Midwestern pals desert me on this one, and even people who trace their childhood winters to cities like Buffalo (88 inches average snowfall per year), Pittsburgh (60 inches), and Chicago (40 inches), find winter here wearisome and unwelcome.
Nevertheless, it's one of my favorite seasons. No, I'm not some well-heeled matron who spends January beside a roaring fire on a wooded estate, and jets to Vail for weekends on the slope.
To the contrary. I live in a modest townhouse with no fireplace, a drafty basement, a husband who loathes winter, and two young children who lose a pair of mittens every other week between Thanksgiving and spring break. I've never been on a ski slope in my life, and the only snow equipment we own besides a shovel is a $5 orange plastic sled.
And, like everyone else in the area, I've had my share of winter driving trials. I've commuted by car to jobs nine out of the last 14 winters, and one winter made three round trips every Thursday from Reston to 16th Street in Washington. Our house faces north and not one ray of sunshine hits the sidewalk. Despite generous applications of kitty litter and salt, combined with manual chopping, we have had ice on our sidewalk for as long as four weeks -- when every other inch of Fairfax County had been brown and dry for three weeks.
No matter -- I still like winter! In no other season is the landscape as beautifully and as quickly transformed as during a snowfall. In just a few hours, field, forest, and junkyard alike take on magical appearances. Willa Cather said it best in My Antonia: "The snow did not fall this time, it simply spilled out of heaven, like thousands of feather-beds being emptied."
Spring and fall stir in me the weekend urge to travel. I want to see the mature azaleas and dogwoods in the older neighborhoods of Arlington and Alexandria, and drive west to the Blue Ridge when the fall colors reach their peak. But winter makes me content to stay at home. After all, the snow in my neighborhood is just as lovely as in yours.
Unlike Midwestern winters that are so frequently accompanied by frost-biting temperatures and high winds, the climate here is milder. Four days after the big snow of 1979 (20 inches), the temperature climbed to 50 degrees. In addition, we usually have a generous share of sunshine in winter. In a ranking of the nation's 50 largest cities, Washington is 22nd for days of sunshine per year -- ahead, surprisingly, of Houston, Honolulu, and Miami (a five-minute rain shower will knock the day out of the sunny category).
Many people resent the isolation that comes from November to March, but I relish the privacy of shorter daylight hours and long nights. On a cold blustery Saturday afternoon in December, for example, I warm up to the absolute silence of living close to 47 other families and not hearing one human sound outdoors. Even people whose livelihood is knocking on doors with petitions to sign, with items to sell, or subscriptions to hawk, keep a lower profile during winter evenings. Dinner time is rarely interrupted by the doorbell when the sun sets at 5 o'clock. The privacy is wonderful, but I know it will end when winter does.
Finally, winter invigorates me. Preparing for the holidays is a pleasure that belongs exclusively to early winter, and in the new year, I have energy for household tasks and leisure projects that were neglected in July because humidity wilts me. In February, I can walk a brisk two miles on a 40-degree day and feel refreshed afterward, without needing a bath.
Best of all, I know that the icy winds of winter will soon turn to warm breezes and that millions of jaunty daffodils will bloom and sway in Washington. And that is one pleasure denied to the unfortunate folks in Southern California.
Aneeta Brown of Reston spent her childhood winters in Nebraska.