December just started, and it fully feels like winter here. After a gloriously mild Thanksgiving weekend, Monday brought chilly rain. A bitter breeze arrived with Tuesday the 1st’s sun. My 9 year-old daughter and I walked the dog that afternoon. Halfway around the block, a sudden gust whipped us, shaking dead leaves from trembling branches. I turned to my kid to say, “It feels just like a slap in the face,” when I saw her grinning from behind the hot pink lining of her parka.

“Feels like winter already,” I said. “How’s it treating you, B?”

“I love it,” she said with the mysterious glee of one who was raised in the south. “This is my favorite time of year.”

I guess the glow of her appreciation helped steel me against the wind. I returned home grateful for the warmth of my household rather than miserable from the elements. Getting out in the light of day was worth it.

Winter is generally my most depressive time of year. I handle it better in North Carolina than I did in the upper midwest, mainly because it’s three months shorter. But I’ve never thoroughly shaken the winter blues. I’d have to globetrot to get away from bare trees and shorter days. Truth is, if I could, I probably would. Grey chill brings out my worst. I don’t know how to cope with any kind of difficulty when my hands and feet are cold. Most days I need a scalding hot shower beating down on my chest just to reacquaint myself with humidity, and how it makes me feel emotionally (cushioned and comforted). Fuzzy slippers, cardigans, and throw blankets are what I use the rest of the time I’m indoors, which is almost always.

But socializing indoors presents danger this winter. The only sensible way to maintain friendships in a pandemic is outside. And I just don’t know how much of that I have in me this season. Especially right now, as the virus surges across the country (we had 1.94 million cases in October, then 4.25 million in November). I have no desire to be in any crowd, indoors or out. I can handle an occasional backyard meetup with a friend or a couple. We even got an outdoor heater to make our space more welcoming. But on blustery days like December 1st, 2020, I just can’t imagine lounging.

I don’t want to become very lonely this winter. But every one of my instincts tells me this is the time of my life to sequester myself as much as possible, and not just six feet physically. I recently finished an electoral campaign job in which I spent 90% of my time on the phone and/or on Zoom. All you do in that line of work is try talking to strangers about a topic that makes them tense. I don’t take it personally when someone screams at me for calling on a Sunday morning, but I also need some time to recuperate from that energy. And when you add all that intensity together, I’m just not ready for much telecommunication these days.  

I look forward to attending trainings and organizing as a rank and file member of the Democratic Socialists of America. I’m glad that will be my primary engagement with Zoom going forward. I don’t see myself using it to hang out with people. The internet ain’t a great place to be friends right now. I keep scanning social media to see what’s up. Most everyone seems drunk, cranky (perhaps hungover), or sad. I don’t begrudge anyone those feelings; I’ve certainly had my share. But I don’t particularly feel like joining them on that journey. Because in some ways I feel very contented right now — to be free of the election from hell and my professional responsibilities to it, to be able to say what I really think, but to also not think quite so much. We socked some money away so I don’t have to worry about finding another job immediately. I can cook, spend time with my kid, give my professor spouse a hand while he wraps up a pandemic semester, maybe play some video games. Before the weather turned cold, I took these long, meandering walks around my neighborhood and listened to the dreamy sounds of Van Dyke Parks as I admired the early-to-mid-20th-century architecture. This hermit time I so desired when I was hosting marathon phone banks in October has finally arrived, just in time for yuletide season.

But of course the cold came as well. In a time of rapid climate change, I suppose I should be grateful for these glimmers of the old normal. Part of me hopes for snow. A sicker part of me wouldn’t completely mind a balmy January to help make the most of quarantine. But whatever happens, I’m determined to keep up those meandering walks. Perhaps I can convince friends to join me. My goal for this season is to somehow become more sociable in the frigid outdoors while keeping my home a cozy sanctuary for positive vibes. But even if I spend a lot of that outdoor time alone, I can savor the the brightness that filters through bare trees and the smatterings of green in ivy and pine. You can find vegetation year-round in the Carolina Piedmont, but you have to go look for it. 

“Boulevard in the Evening” Isaac Levitan, 1883

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