When something that has been part of your world for as long as you can remember is missing, it leaves a void that nothing can fill.
You try to find positives. You focus on the things you can do, now that you are not distracted by the thing that otherwise takes up so much time and energy, and dominates your conversation. But for all its flaws, for the many ways it drives you crazy, costs you money and makes you neglect other parts of your life, you still feel lost without it, and you want it to return.
That’s why I want to say: Welcome back, winter. I missed you.
Our relationship with the season that so many people from outside the region consider a synonym for Buffalo is complicated. Privately and to one another, we will complain about any number of things related to bitterly cold temperatures, heavy snow and gray, sunless days. But watch our backs go up when some outsider makes the same observation.
Because in Western New York, winter is family. It’s the relative that comes to visit, usually at a time you weren’t quite expecting, overstays its welcome and then doesn’t show up for another eight months. Last year, it never came. The days were too warm. The lake never froze. There was hardly any snow. That’s not the Western New York winter I know.
Mine can be found in weather forecasts, such as this week’s, that show high temperatures lower than the legal driving age – with wind chill factors that even people in the Yukon consider brisk – followed by days that reach 25 degrees that we call a “warm-up.”
It can be found in communities where demand for outdoor skating rinks continues to grow. In East Aurora, the rink was so popular that it became a year-round enterprise. In Lewiston, the rink in Academy Park already has drawn more people this winter than it did all of last year. And in North Tonawanda, the city is converting the old, unused bocce court at Pinewoods Park on Christiana Street into a rink.
It can be found in never-ending debates between parents and children about wearing a scarf or a hat or gloves or boots – “But, Mom, it’s not even that cold!” – and in the bravado of teenage boys who don’t let a towel touch their hair after getting out of the shower in the morning and arrive at school with a frozen head.
It can be found not just on the demanding slopes at ski resorts, but on the hills of Chestnut Ridge in Orchard Park, whose unspoiled beauty prompted Boston Globe writer Kevin Paul Dupont to pen a column last month that bordered on poetry. “Ah, but to be there atop Chestnut Ridge, with life’s volume turned low, its pace slowed, the world minimized to the pleasure and task of blending sport with gravity. …”
Winter should inspire poetry, as have all things that are both beautiful and painful. We’ve finally begun to celebrate its significance, with an assortment of wintertime events outdoors and parties that by all rights should one day be as popular as the food and art festivals that define our summers.
While good summers are a dime a dozen, few communities can match our kind of winter. To borrow a phrase from two Canadian talk show hosts over the weekend who were talking about hockey, it’s what we are.
Which reminds me, winter: Thanks for bringing the Sabres back with you. I missed them, too.