Snow Cakes, hygge and other weather ponderings


Snow Cakes Final

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.  – Anton Chekov
Winter changes into stone the water of heaven and the heart of man. – Victor Hugo
 “Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.” –  Doug Larson  (English middle-distance runner who won gold medals at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.)
Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.  – John Ruskin
Weather … we all have our stories of sun and rain, sweltering heat and blizzardy blizzards, wild winds and storm-tossed seas.  But does weather really affect us on an emotional level or do our individual dispositions (our happiness quotient) determine how we experience climate?  Some research suggests the latter, that if we’re grumpy by nature we’ll be more negatively affected by a cold, dark day.  Ruskin or Chekhov, for instance, may have breezed through a storm without knowing the difference.  Hugo, on the other hand, (at least, according to his quote above) may have been someone more shaped by the seasons.
I’ve friends who insure their vacations against bad weather, and we’re not talking the level of hurricanes or tornadoes, but even just a bit of rain.  Guaranteed sunshine, they are reimbursed for any days they must pop their umbrellas.  On first hearing this, years ago, I laughed with disbelief.  Surely, they must be missing something integral or perhaps their high expectations, so rigidly carved, usurp their ability to go with the flow.  If you’re with people you enjoy, after all, rain or shine, you’ll have a good time … Won’t you?    In retrospect, I was a bit naïve.
Indeed, I’ve fond memories of inclement weather.  Winters in Spain meant rain and for weeks at a time the village was engulfed in a cloud.  We (the three artists who shared Fuente Studios that year) stood on the roof terrace that first time it appeared.  We watched in jaw-dropping silence as that great, black cloud drifted over the mountains and settled like a blanket over the village. Just moments before, we’d been gazing at the Mediterranean with the town of Torre del Mar sparkling in the distance and, suddenly, within seconds, the coastline disappeared as did the houses all around us.  Although standing but a metre apart, we could barely see each other through the fog.  A sunny Andalucian day instantly transformed:  the temperature dropped by ten degrees, the humidity seeped into your bones, and we scrambled giddily downstairs as the rain began to pelt.  We laughed nervously in the kitchen as we threw together a meal and like children, sitting side by side on the dining room table, we watched through the windows as the streets flowed like rivers.
Wild weather excites the primal.   It threatens.  Adrenaline is ignited, prickling the skin and the mind.  Survival mode kicks in.  We come in from the rain or the snow, we dry ourselves off, we light a fire, we make soup, we look out over windy streets swept with the elements, we make a cup of tea … and, thus, we feel safe and sound.
The Danish have a word:  hygge.  Loosely translated, it means “cozy” but its meaning transcends atmosphere to encompass a sense of intimacy, camaraderie, good food, laughter, soft colours, candlelight … well, it can be many things, really … you just know it when it happens.  And it happens often in winter.  We’ve no particular word for it in English, but we know the feeling.  It’s snowing and blowing outside and you open the door to a room filled with the warm scents of cooking. You curl up with others by the fireplace, perhaps, or take your place at the table to raise a glass with friends.  Conversation flows, eyes sparkle, ideas ferment and bubble and you know you’re exactly where you want to be.  Winter – a time of warmth and sharing.
Hygge Moments 2
A few hygge moments …
It’s been said that winter is a time of restoration, creativity and reflection.  It seems our hearts drift nostalgically during this cold, shivery season.  We look back, remember and churn the past with the present as though making a batch of cookies.  More often indoors, there is time – or, at least, more time — to ruminate.   But it wasn’t always that way.
There was a time we all once loved that white stuff out there and nothing could keep us from diving into it.  Zipping down hills, tumbling and crashing, we bounced back up and begged for more.  Thousands of snowballs zipped through the air as battles were fought and snow forts built.  The music of skates scraped the ice and curtains closed as nights filled with stars, always too soon.  Inevitably, the call would echo through our laughter and play:  Time to come home… and that was nice too.  The scent of wet wool hung to dry, you sought the warmth of a fireplace or TV screen, sipping hot chocolate as dinner set itself magically upon the table.  Like a snow globe trinket fluttering softly with flakes, winters remembered are pure and unblemished, and bigger and better than anything now. “When I was a kid, snow banks were taller than my head!” a friend said as the city street snow banks accumulated this winter.  True enough, but we were all considerably shorter back then.
Winter landed early this year, but we didn’t take it seriously.  Anomalous snows come and go in this country, so no one was worried – surely, it wasn’t here to stay.  One morning after the first few snowfalls, I opened the door to my courtyard and a memory voice whispered, ‘hmmm … snow cakes… ’   As a child, I’d marveled at their shapes, flawless with symmetry or sculpted like clouds by the wind. My imagination coloured them pink, blue, green or yellow and like a baker gone mad, I decorated them lavishly with snowball cherries and icicle candles, whatever was at hand.   Other times, it was enough just to crouch down and look, to examine, to hold my breath in awe.  … And then there were those other moments when, without a thought and driven by impulse, I destroyed them, just for the hell of it.  Perfection is irresistible and nothing invites chaos quite like sphericity.  One moment it is there and then, with a jump, a kick or the wave of a hand:  Poof!  It’s gone.
Like magicians we are still quite adept at transforming but less apt to destroy perfection in the process, we create moments of hygee from what would otherwise be an excess of snow and bitter cold.  We’ve developed a taste for contrasts. We may have abandoned the making of snow angels but we reshape Hugo’s hearts of stone into gems with the light and warmth of faces we love.
All that said, this winter has gone on a bloody long time.  Still doing our best to make hygge moments, we gather for dinners, yet, the first words on our lips on entering the warmth is, Gawd, I can’t wait until this winter is over.  Even the snow-lovers echo this prayer.
But wait we must.
And, I think, were I to book a vacation somewhere south at this moment, there is no doubt I’d insure it against wind, blizzards, snow, hurricanes, ice storms, meteoric collisions, terrorist attacks, alien invasions and maybe, even … rain. Ah well, perhaps, rain would be ok.  I like popping umbrellas .  Yet, as Victor Hugo also said, Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.  So perhaps it just depends upon which side of the bed we awake.

Update:  March 14th
Courtyard Overview
My courtyard, from above …
… We’re still waiting.  The snow cakes have melted several times and then re-poofed, not so pretty now, sadly misshapen but there, nonetheless.  False starts of spring have turned to nothing… hmmmm.  It will be a winter remembered, that is sure, one to be blended with the past and the present and set into the oven to rise into a cake of its own.  Will I colour it pink, blue, purple or yellow …, maybe, even orange, the colour of tropical dreams?  …  I don’t know.  What I do know is that whatever its colour –  as with all such times – we know, one day, we’ll laugh about it.  With the coming of spring puddles it will merge with the rest, and like a snow globe fluttering with the fluffy flakes of time it will grow bigger and better than anything else.
 How weather can change your mood: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2008/11/09/weather-can-change-your-mood/
Surprising ways weather affects us:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/14/climate-health_n_4568505.html
Hygge:  http://fathomaway.com/postcards/culture/attempt-define-danish-hygge/
Winter and creativity:  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/attention-training/201311/the-ways-winter-mindfulness
The workings of memory:  http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/jan/13/our-memories-tell-our-story
 Winter Nostalgia Taken to the Extreme:  http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/multimedia/video/Winter_nostalgia.html?cid=29352784
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About JT Winik

A Canadian visual artist whose figurative paintings are psychological explorations of isolation, interpersonal relationships, gender analysis and female sexuality.
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One Response to Snow Cakes, hygge and other weather ponderings

  1. Willem van Zon says:

    The Dutch and by default the Flemish population of Belgium also have a word like “hygge.” We call it “gezellig” as an adverb or “gezelligheid” as a noun. Barack Obama just used “gezellig” to describe his visit to The Netherlands for the The Hague Nuclear Summit. The Germans use “gemutlich” or “gemutlichkeit.” Is it possible that the European lowlands have an “exclusive” on this particular feeling?

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