- Rob Donnelly
You're probably wondering how to get through the cold months now that you no longer live in Dallas, San Diego or North Dakota. And to be honest, the internet is crawling with articles offering precious, Norman Rockwell-type advice for Vermont winter first-timers, like "Enjoy a cup of hot mulled cider if you get chilly!"
Ignore those morons. Now that I've been living in this state for a year and a third, I'm going to reveal the gritty truth about the darkest season in the Green Mountains. No mulled cider for me. I'm going to be enjoying a big creemee and some handcrafted, maple-laced IPA over here with my fellow descendants of Ethan Allen.
Every one of those articles says the same thing: "Wear warm clothing, in layers."
Hold up a second, I want to make sure I'm understanding this advice correctly. Are you saying that in freezing weather I should wear more warm clothing — several different items, in fact, that I can take off? I shouldn't wear one single five-inch-thick layer of insulated rubber, like an arctic wet suit that makes me sweat when I step inside a well-heated building?!? What kind of witchcraft is this?
I'm going to need some documentation for such an outrageous claim — maybe a controlled, double-blind scientific study in which 500 test subjects agree to go skiing in Speedos, shifts and thongs to see whether they're less comfortable than people wearing, you know, pants and sweaters and boots.
Granted, this may seem like obvious advice. But what noobs don't realize is that a Vermont winter requires you to add 50 or 60 layers of paper-thin clothing, either the finest silk or that white tissue paper you put around gifts, so that you become a human spanakopita. Be sure to get to work about an hour early so that you have enough time to shed each of your dozens of skins and re-layer them in reverse order on a giant winter coat hanger. You'll probably want to number them for reassembly.
Some additional tips: Try not to get soaking wet when it's windy and below 20 degrees. Also, if you get cold, come inside. And close the door behind you.
That's the key advice. You're welcome. Please send me $1,000 for my insights.
The fact is that after 16 long months of living here, winter is my favorite season in Vermont. The cold is what keeps Florida Man from moving here, so, cool.
I love the cold, clear, dry and sunny days. There's no gardening to do, and our basement stays dry. Water stops seeping into it because it's all frozen solid. If your basement is really rough, you'll have an ice rink down there, and how chill is that?
Outside, birds are less standoffish and flock to our feeder — or, as I call it, Vermont cable TV. Wild bunny rabbits leave adorable little paw prints in the fresh snow.
- Rob Donnelly
Round about last February, I was getting maybe a little too invested in the birds. We had one male and one female cardinal that came by every day, a species so distinct that even I could identify them.
"Honey, the cardinals aren't eating their meals together," I told my wife. "Frankly, I'm worried about their relationship."
See, I was getting through the winter just fine! Gossiping about individual birds while muttering to myself, "It's great here."
My wife got one of those charts to identify different birds, which led to months of very mild fun. Apparently, I wasn't the first person to get a bit stir-crazy during a long winter, because someone named one species the "titmouse." I bet it was also February when they said, "You know what? That one looks like a mouse with boobs. Or, I guess, one big combined boob?"
I do have some real, honest advice: You definitely need to get outside. And if you don't hire a snow-shoveling service, well then, problem solved!
There are a lot of very cold, dry days with a dusting of new snow, just enough to irritate anyone like me who's on the OCD spectrum. And I haven't found a better tool for this powder than a broom, even on my lawn. Yes, sweeping the dirt and grass. (The ground is harder than concrete at this point, anyway.) Look for a cheap garage-sale broom now.
The traditional choices for getting outside are snowmobiles, downhill skiing and cross-country skiing, which are all fine but can be expensive. Vermont in winter is just one big ski area with a few colleges nestled between the chairlifts.
For a cheaper alternative, check out your library. Here in Middlebury, they have some unusual items, such as jigsaw puzzles and a wood-moisture reader to see whether your firewood is seasoned enough. Now they just need to add fancy clothes and a sensitive boyfriend for the weekend to the circulating collection, and winter will be everybody's favorite season.
The key to being outside in the cold is keeping it quick. I still remember my first New England winter, during college, when I saw a dorm mate wearing just shorts and a Hawaiian shirt on one of those days when your wet hair freezes during the 90 seconds it takes to walk across the quad. (I had hair back then. Shut up.)
I asked Sean how he could possibly stand the cold with such light clothing. "I don't know, you just do," he said. I persisted, "But isn't it really uncomfortable after—" He cut me off. "LET'S NOT JUST STAND OUT HERE AND GAB ABOUT IT!"
Google Maps says it takes about 20 minutes to walk a mile. When it's 9 degrees out, that same mile takes me about five minutes — if I'm injured. It's like having to pee really badly, times 10.
I can't complain, because I'm a Vermonter now, and that's one thing you never do: Complain about winter. You like it. It's hearty. In fact, you reverse-complain by talking about how it used to be much colder, and the only thing that bothers you is it isn't cold enough anymore. Winters are a lot warmer than I hear they used to be.
Yeah, I like that crisp air, when my nose hairs crystallize and I can just snap them off by flicking. Convenient! Back in the old days, it got so cold that the air froze solid and you had to boil it just to breathe. That was fun. We like that, I hear.
Aside from the first two weeks of October, what's a better time of year? Mud season? Tick season? Black fly season? The sweltering summer, with blistering heat, heavy downpours and sticky, smothering humidity? Definitely not summer. The atmosphere is 50 percent water and 30 percent flesh-eating insects, trillions of tiny flying piranhas. We basically walk through carnivorous soup. I don't like that part. Not a fan.
A friend told me, "You'll love it here in the summer. Vermont's humming!" Yeah, but that's just the bugs saying grace before dinner.
If you have a garden or overgrown yard, you'll get overwhelmed as the plants make a run for it in July and August. I've never seen such explosive growth, and they're mostly toxic plants, such as poison ivy, sun-activated caustic parsnip and death aster. OK, I made up death aster, but there's probably something even worse I don't know about yet. It's like the shrubbery crouches defensively for 10 months a year, and as soon as it's too hot to dig plants up, they yell, "GO! GO! Grow now when they can't cut us back!!"
Naw, it's the winter for me. And I want a real, hard-biting winter, something we can humblebrag about when future flatlanders come here, not the watered-down, globally warmed version I've had in the past year or so. A lot of pro football players say they don't really get into a new season until they've been hit hard for the first time. Like Vermonters, they have hard heads, but in their case, it's a helmet.
Give me a good solid shot, winter. I'm looking forward to it.