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Cold Comfort

The Guideposts senior editor shares how you can rejoice in winter despite the cold weather.

When do you chafe at winter? Is it after the holidays when the lights come down and the deep dark settles in? Or is it April when a late snowstorm pronounces “Hah!” on your dreams of spring?

I’m chafing now. It’s only February and I feel housebound and restless. I can’t see spring at the end of the tunnel. It was quite cold last weekend, single digits with wind chill, and while that bracingly reminds me of mountaintops and clears Central Park of morning runners, leaving me in sole possession of the paths and fields, it aces out playground play and causes the radiators in our drafty apartment to go crazy, cranking like desert ovens.

If we lived in the country, if we had a car, it would all be different. We could drive to the mountains and snowshoe in the woods. My new favorite book, Sky’s Witness, about the Wind River Range in Wyoming, is laden with eloquent descriptions of snow. The crystalline structure of snow. Snow above and below tree line, falling and melting, its textures and remarkable behavior deep down inside the drifts, where mice carve tunnels and winter life beats on in muffled quiet.

Here in the city snow is beautiful for about half an hour. Then cars and plows have their way with it and it grimes up. The city always looks the same, winter and summer, except the parks have leaves and flowers in summer, which of course you don’t see on the subway or in an office. Winter just means it gets dark early and some weekends your kids don’t want to go outside. Metal playground equipment becomes scaldingly cold in winter.

I say all this and then this morning I went running in Central Park. I woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep so I ended up out the door at five-thirty. It was dark, only a few taxis and delivery trucks on Broadway. The park felt empty. I ran slowly at first. It wasn’t all that cold, high twenties maybe, but I felt cold inside.

Then, somewhere near Columbus Circle, I warmed up. I neared the zoo and discovered my path blocked by closed gates (happens sometimes when I’m out so early). I backtracked onto Fifth Avenue and re-entered the park near 72nd Street. Right there is one of my favorite places in New York, a stone stairway mounting a low hill topped by a primitive pagoda-type thing fashioned from knobby tree branches. Beyond that is a short dirt path, maybe fifty yards, that amazingly looks and sounds like a mountain trail, crunchy and gravelly.

I ran up the steps and realized it was pitch black up there. I felt my way forward, going purely on memory. I skirted a bush, stepped over stones I’d seen countless times before. The moon was out but somehow its light was obscured. Then the path ended and I was back in the light. I felt exhilarated, like I’d momentarily left the city entirely.

I ran on past the frozen Conservatory Water (where Stuart Little pilots his sail boat) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Finally I came to the part of my run I always savor most, a path cutting across the park between baseball diamonds on one side and the North Woods on the other. The path crests a low hill and crosses a tangle of knuckly schist rock. The midtown skyline rises into view, jeweled with light at this early hour. It’s quiet. It’s the only place I’ve found in New York where I can regularly hear the sound of wind in trees. I listened. There it was, a cold breeze sifting the branches. A few hundred yards later I was out of the park and the sun was cresting the horizon.

I’m chafing at winter but I’m working my way toward thanking God for it anyway. The error is always ours when we resent God’s timing or yearn to be somewhere we’re not. We’re in winter now, beneath that crystalline snow in the place of cold and quiet. Let’s try to rejoice and be glad in it.

Jim Hinch is a senior editor at GUIDEPOSTS. Reach him at jhinch@guideposts.org.

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