In June, I jumped into the Alaskan Pacific for the first time. The water bit my goose-bump-coated skin with 58-degree saltwater fangs. It zinged and buzzed and reminded me, thoroughly and completely, of where I was. I laughed and let my jaw hang beneath the surface of the water, sucking in the sea and spitting it back up as I swam further into the sound. My friend watched worriedly from the rockweed shore. Euphoria, he yelled, is the first sign of hypothermia.
It’s November. In New Haven, there is snow on the ground and the cold is just beginning. With dropping temperatures, squally winds, and icy sidewalks inevitably comes the seasonal conversation that concerns only the season. These wintry whines permeate every awkward pause on campus. The Californians claim, over and over, that they’ll never adapt. The Texans refuse to buy a jacket. The Minnesotans refuse to put one on, insisting it’s not winter until your front door is buried in snow. Even the New Englanders seem to have seasonal amnesia, rejecting the notion that winter has ever been this cold, or come this early. And with all of these theories about the inconveniences of the outside world, and our own inadaptability to it, we let go of the magic of red-splotched cheeks and snow-clumped hair, of iced-over branches and flurry-filled gusts. We let this magic melt away into the inky sky of 5 p.m. sunsets. But before this seasonal script takes over in earnest, sometimes expanding into big, not just small, talk, about how winter might depress us or suck the light out of us, I want to offer a humble defense of the cold.
The beginning of this school year was objectively miserable. It was sunny and it was hot and there was never a cloud in the sky. I was in Connecticut for weeks before the rains came, waiting impatiently while becoming brittle and thirsty for a taste of the place where I lived. When the rains finally arrived, I almost cried (of happiness, of course). I rushed home with a goofy smile, then ran up Prospect towards the willow trees by Edwards Street, cut onto the grass and rolled down the hill to the Yale Farm. My skin was slick and hair gnarled. My spiraling slowed to a stop, and I stayed lying there for a while, sprawled on the ground, watching and feeling and tasting the rain. Having forgotten what it felt like to know and feel the air I breathed, the touch of it overwhelmed me. I eventually got up. I ran around a bit more before returning home renewed, reminded that the Medieval fortresses and asphalt grids of New Haven cannot wall out the movement of water. Like the sea, the bite of the rain and the snow reminds me, thoroughly and completely, of where I am. The cold water reminds me that euphoria might be the first sign of hypothermia.
I forget where I am when the sky is blue and the winds are still. Mild days dissolve and pass by unnoticed. I sit inside, check my emails and respond to none of them. I ride my bike to class, wear the same sweater and jeans each day, and make vague comments about politics or my sleep cycles when the need for small talk arises. But when the cold comes back, when I can feel the air around me, with my ear cartilage clenching and my knuckles stiffening, I remember the joys of the sea.
New Haven isn’t always my favorite place in the world. I hate passing by the carcasses of wheel-less bicycles locked to parking meters. I hate becoming used to the ringing sound of sirens and I hate forgetting to wonder about the person for whom they were sent. Sometimes I drift into daydream, back into the cold Pacific, imaginary barnacle coated rocks beneath my feet once more, the spout of a sperm whale again in the distance.
The cold brings me back to this city. It braids my mind and body together in the place where I am standing. I know that the cold does not treat us all equally well — that some of us have nowhere to retreat inside when the sidewalks turn to ice, and others of us lack a home-knit hat to keep our ears from turning an unfavorable shade of crimson. But as the yellow leaves spiral to the street and the sharp-shinned hawks head south overhead, I am pulled outside, where I remember that euphoria can be the first sign of hypothermia, that feeling the weather, even when it bites, binds me closer to the air I breathe. This winter, I hope to see you in the snow.
Diana Saverin is a senior in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .