Rediscovering the joy of New England’s winter season

  • Andy Castillo Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo

  • A snowy road in Gill. Staff File Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Staff File Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Staff File Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • A wintery scene captured on the Robert Frost Trail in Shutesbury. Staff File Photo/Andy Castillo

  • A barn covered in snow near the Hawley and Charlemont line as seen in 2017.

  • Staff File Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Dramatic light overlooking Pumpkin Hollow in Conway in 2017. Staff File Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Staff File Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Bovines enjoy lunch at Bar-Way Farm just off Stillwater Road during a snowstorm in 2018. Staff File Photo/Andy Castillo

Staff Writer
Published: 12/9/2019 6:00:22 AM

There was a time, perhaps five years ago, when I wanted to move to California. I wasn’t drawn to the western state’s physical place as much as to its idea — an elusive apparition of freedom and ease, conjured from Hollywood movies, which doesn’t actually exist. I was young and ambitious; I was tired of New England’s bitter winters and of the culture’s tough exterior; I longed for warm days and blue oceans.

This wasn’t always the case, however. There was a time when I didn’t hold such distaste for the Northeast’s harsher climate.

Something changed along the way. As a child, my winters were joyfully spent in play. Snowfall meant bundled clothing, endless snow forts and toboggan trips down the hill at Look Memorial Park in Northampton and the infamous Hospital Hill on the former Northampton State Hospital’s grounds, renown for its steep incline. For a while, I thought its name came from the number of sledders its treacherous slope sent to Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

From December to February, we spent as equal time outside in the cold as we did during warmer months.

One winter, my seven brothers and I painted a snow-dragon with food coloring. In retrospect, I understand this endeavor (initiated by our wise mother) to be as much a distraction as it was entertainment. For a 6-year-old, it afforded an opportunity to unleash the imagination. Another year, we converted our yard into a fortress, assaulting approaching cars with snowballs. The main wall collapsed after an uncle attempted to breach its impressive height.

Eventually, though, I lost interest in winter. During my teenage years, wintertime became associated with shoveling the driveway for $20; synonymous with brushing snow off the car and shivering until the heat warmed enough to defog the windshield.

The snow, once deep enough to swallow my boots whole and magical enough to engage my mind for hours, became an annoyance. I sought an escape from the cold and, as a result, became less active. My wardrobe mirrored these changes — jackets were exchanged for sweatshirts; boots were discarded in favor of more comfortable indoor attire. This, in turn, fueled my growing aversion to winter.

Seasonal depression set in and I became a miserable New Englander — oblivious to the beauty of a snow-covered forest, so quiet the trees snap, immune to the magic of endlessly swirling snowflakes in a midnight sky.

I sought solace in complaining— about shoveling; about the cold air; about the piling snow — but found none. The cold was still there; the snow was just as deep; it still needed to be shoveled. Thus, without the ability to change nature’s rhythm, I decided I’d leave the cold behind in Massachusetts and move to California.

But then I met my wife, Brianna. She was an experienced figure skater and avid skier who looked forward to wintertime activities. I’d been snowboarding once or twice before but wasn’t passionate about it. On an early date, we went skiing at Ski Butternut in Great Barrington. I was hooked — both on her and on snowboarding.

I haven’t looked back.

Today, I’m happy to say that I’ve refound my wintertime passion. My winters are filled with wonder. Berkshire East is a frequent destination; as is the Collins-Moylan Skating Arena in Greenfield and Mullins Center in Amherst. I’ve re-learned how to skate, a hobby my dad taught me a long time ago. This winter, I intend to learn to cross-country ski. My wardrobe has become robust, featuring quality winter jackets that keep the cold at bay. Instead of avoiding the snowy woods, I crave the peace I find there. My seasonal depression has retreated. In its place, I’ve rediscovered the joy of my childhood.

Once again, I find myself mesmerized by the cold black of New England’s gorgeous winter season.

Andy Castillo is the features editor at the Greenfield Recorder. He holds a master’s degree in creative nonfiction from Bay Path University and can be reached at acastillo@recorder.com.




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