Winter. Beloved of cross-country skiers, downhill racers, ice skaters, snowballers, nowmen, and snowplow manufacturers. Also beloved of folks who live in Tampa, San Diego, Honolulu, and other tropical spots where arctic weather advisories are never heard, except as good news for the tourist trade. But for most people who live in the temperate zone, winter is a time of plummeting temperatures, soaring heat bills, freezing rain, stalled cars, frozen pipes, and frigid ground. The season from hell, where beneath the fires in Dante's inferno, lies the ninth circle, the lowest level, the place of eternally freezing cold. No wonder so many people have moved from the Snowbelt deep into the Sunbelt, where the ground never freezes and the year never dies. Where the gardening season and the homegrown vegetables never end. I too have thought from time to time about making the move, especially when I've been walking the four-mile stretch of beach along Hanelei Bay on the north shore of Kauai in late December or early January. The sand under my feet, the sun on my cheek, Kate by my side, and the mild Pacific air all around me in a warm embrace. I've even gone so far as to thumb through real estate ads for beachfront homes along that fabled bay, where South Pacific was filmed and Bali Hai is forever visible in the middle distance of one's mind. But soon enough reality takes hold again, and not just in the form of real estate prices far beyond my pocket book, but also in the haunting voice that rises within me, sounding its strange refrain-"But how about winter? How about winter? Could you really give it up forever?" Then I know that winter is deep within my bones, from sixty-five years of weathering its cold embrace in places like Ohio, Michigan, New York, Maine, and Iowa.
But why the winter holds me and how I make it through-those are questions I never before tried to answer except in the pages of the daybook I kept during the winter of 1994-95. A time of year so apparently at odds with the very thought of gardening that when I started the year-long journal that eventually turned into both Weathering Winter and My Vegetable Love, some of my well-meaning friends and colleagues advised me just to skip over the winter months and get on with the growing season. They seemed to be telling me, in one way or another, that growth doesn't take place in winter, as if everything were temporarily on hold until spring, as if winter gardening were a contradiction in terms, and winter itself so forbidding a time that no one could possibly want to read about it. But I couldn't help thinking about the gardening catalogues that arrive in winter and the gardening dreams and the gardening squabbles with Kate about what to grow and where to grow it. And the snow falling, the birds flocking in, the icicles growing, the cabin fever rising, the buds swelling, and the seed trays coming to life overnight. So much to write about I could hardly resist.
Besides, I couldn't help thinking that winter, after all, makes up a quarter of the year, a quarter of our lives, and that all of us sooner or later must find a way of weathering its intimations of mortality, no matter where we live.