Editor’s Notes

Shovel ready

At first winter seems quaint and fun. Then cold reality sets in.

By Amy Braverman Puma
Photography by Berton Braverman and Dan Dry

IMAGE: Braverman Backyard
It looks lovely—from inside.
IMAGE: Campus winter
By January winter means burying one’s head, not enjoying the view.
IMAGE: Idaho cattle
To Jon Marvel, AB’72, this scene of cattle grazing in central Idaho looks anything but bucolic.

Every winter, after the first snow, my dad e-mails my siblings and me photographs of our backyard blanketed in white. They’re meant especially for my brother, who lives in California and, my dad says, “may be forgetting what snow looks like.” Seeing the crisp, fresh whiteness reminds me of crunching boot-prints all over the yard, of making snowmen and angels, of sledding.

Then I remember: I hate winter. Always have. Most of my winter memories from our northwest Chicago suburb are of icy fingertips and freezing nose hairs as I walked to the corner bus stop. The plows piled the snow so high on the corner that we could barely peer over the heap to see the dirty yellow bus approaching. Unlike other kids, I didn’t want to play in the snow. Despite the layers and hats and coats and gloves, it was hard to make a snow angel without the white stuff seeping in and numbing my wrists, my ankles, my neck.

Even today, it’s rare to get days with enough snow to crunch around yet temperatures moderate enough to enjoy it. The snow usually accompanies subzero wind chills. I can’t take my two-year-old, who’s been reading and singing and fantasizing about Frosty the Snowman, out in that.

So my dad’s photos are deceptively appealing, a rose-colored vision, in the same way that the Idaho cattle photo at right may seem dishonest to Jon Marvel, AB’72, who argues that cows are ruining the land. Or like a Dan Dry campus photo of holiday lights glistening on the main quads. The scene is gorgeous, but many alumni remember Hyde Park winters as gray and so cold that they buried their faces in coats and scarfs while plodding to class, rarely noticing the beauty around them. In the Magazine’s 2007 haiku contest, poet after poet drew icy images: the word “cold” appeared 13 times, “wind” 21, “winter” 27, and “gray” or “grey” 39 (not including a reference to former president Hanna Gray).

Yet every year when my dad’s photo arrives in my inbox, I stop and smile, forgetting for a moment the chill it threatens. Perhaps that’s nostalgia’s purpose, like a mother forgetting the pain of childbirth. If we didn’t forget, who would go through it again?