March 4, 2014, Washington, DC: You can hear a snow day before you see it. That busy city street out the bedroom window is still, too still, the moment you open your eyes. Something is off kilter and a peek through the blinds confirms it. It’s a weekday morning in the city and not a neighbor is in sight upon a hushed blanket of white.
But this morning those days are behind us. They must be. It is time. The neighborhood sounds different — the passing of tentative cars, the crackle of salt beneath heavy boots, a bird chirping and engines warming as the scraping begins. Washington is moving on. It is ready for St. Patrick’s Day and one more hour of daylight, for riding bicycles and Nationals’ Opening Day.
I feel disconnected from my Washington in winter. Cold days and early nights interfere with the way I interact with my surroundings. Instead of walking three short blocks to the Metro at Eastern Market, I get in the car out front and blast the heat. Instead of exploring new restaurants and visiting friends in other neighborhoods, we stay indoors or choose the closest place in sight. Our social scene slows to a crawl, the circle through which we move tightens to near suffocation. In the indoor exercise classes that replace outdoor runs and rides, I’m reminded that stillness can be more difficult than movement, on both our muscles and on our minds. This winter’s stillness has been excruciating.
But soon the ground will thaw and I won’t mind walking to the Metro or waiting for the bus. I might wander through the city without shivering, no specific destination planned. Not long now before those of us who have spent months hibernating will emerge back into the city and find it just how we left it, full of fascinating people and movement and life.
February 8, 2014, In transit: I wake up ready to write. My old habits have fallen by the wayside, replaced by new ones like decorating the house, sitting still long enough to read good fiction, and making plans. But this morning Washington’s Union Station is serene in the early morning and smells like bacon as I board a train bound for New York City, and as the train begins moving across a soon-to-thaw landscape, I am faced with three-plus hours alone to sip warm coffee, gaze at the blurred, passing scenery, and luxuriate in uninterrupted time to record my surroundings.
Outside the world remains dusted with a crusty coating of salt that thickens as we head north. The trees are bare and houses in suburban developments along the tracks look worse for the wear beneath a neutral brown February morning. We pass a dirty Ford Bronco, a parking lot full of Fed Ex trucks and an empty airstrip on a road parallel to the train tracks before buzzing beneath another overpass and alongside a marsh reflecting nascent sunlight approaching BWI. Here travelers come and go, disembarking one mode of transport and boarding the next, one leg of the journey complete and still not home. As we depart Baltimore, I’m saddened as usual to see row upon row of uninhabitable, half-destroyed housing, realizing it’s now been many years since I started hoping for this neighborhood to turn. Near Wilmington, patchy snow begins spotting the landscape. Winter is longer here. It’s been long enough.
January 27, 2012, Washington, DC: It’ll turn on you without warning, the weather down here in the Mid-Atlantic. A morning like today’s — windows down… the temperature a balmy 61 degrees and rising… dark, severe, layer cake clouds luring you out for a long, warm morning run — and it’s impossible to remember what January is supposed to feel like. Today’s scene is offbeat. Distracting. It’s nothing like that season a few years ago that you swore you’d never forget and yet can’t quite recall in the warmth of this morning.
January 5, 2012, Washington, DC: Our relationships with the places we love change in winter. The light shifts, and so does how we see them. In the cold of early January, these places we love settle down, grow quiet and more isolated. After the holiday high of full houses and delighted residents, we see our towns and cities get a bit moody and insular.