When I came to New England College my freshman year, you could say I was highly unprepared for winter. Dazed and confused, I moved through September sweating and stressed. My backpack contained every textbook, notebook, pencil, and eraser I owned. This caused me to present like a red-faced, speed walking turtle that always looked stressed.
The harsh sunbeams of September became less intense in October, the leaves lost their sweet summer greens and traded them in for a watercolor array of fiery oranges, vibrant reds, and honeycomb yellows. When the leaves changed and the foliage came to its peak, I learned to lighten the load I carried in my backpack. As I speed walked to class, I noticed the air felt much cooler than I had known it to be growing up. Goosebumps ran up my arms, foreshadowing what was to come.
I grew up on Cape Cod. The last time I can recall having snow that stuck to the ground was in middle school; every snowfall was like a good dream, disappearing by morning. I was used to shrugging on a heavy sweatshirt and riding the winter season out. I was the person people with real winter coats would look at bewildered, thinking, is she crazy? The saltwater created a buffer, never letting the Cape or me get too cold. I became oblivious to the fact that once I moved away from my warm saltwater security blanket, I would come to know what being cold really felt like.
But I did, I fled the Cape and journeyed to New England College. The ocean became farther away from me than it had ever been; I was landlocked and cold.
I refused to buy a winter jacket until January of my freshman year. I remember my roommate stuffing me in her car and driving me to a Marshall’s, insisting we were not leaving until I bought a jacket. I scanned the aisles, peppered with fuzzy sweater, peacoats and down jackets. I was nearly frozen at this point, my bone white hands grasping the cheapest jacket I could find. It was a big, gold puffer jacket and I will never forget it. This fraud of a jacket did not do much for me except make me look like a tacky disco ball and clash with my blonde hair; neither of which lasted.
I bought a nicer coat halfway through my sophomore year, my big splurge. It was long, blue and had a thin layer of down. It even said Columbia on the sleeve, so in my mind, this label was a promise of warmth, reassuring somehow. It was enough for a crisp fall festival or early morning pumpkin picking under light cloud cover. I was not enough for winter.
New Hampshire winters are no joke. If you drive around most towns, there are homes with wood lining the sides like a fortress, an armor that waves its mighty fist at the invisible winter that approaches saying, “You won’t get us this year!” Smoke billows out of chimneys in triumph and folks start talking about ordering cords of wood and kindling; apparently there is a difference between a wood stove and fireplace. The word ‘furnace’ is a smack in the face here. If all of this is confusing to you, then I regret to inform you that you are me four years ago: highly unprepared.
Fall seems to vanish overnight. The temperatures drop gently at first and then all at once, plummeting closer and closer to zero. Walking outside in the morning is nearly as good as having a cup of coffee, the bitter cold washing over you in the same way caffeine pumps through your body. The air quickly gives way to big, cotton ball white flakes that free fall into giant mounds of snow, the plows roar through quite Henniker and make sidewalks unrecognizable. This feeling is truly indescribable until you are feeling the wrath of the New Hampshire mountaintops hurdling wind, snow, and black ice all over the place.
It took me until my senior year to buy a thick down coat that swallows me up whole and could double as a sleeping bag; however, it retains so much warmth I do not care how silly it looks. If the only advice I can provide to the freshman is to find a good winter coat that will warm them up for the next four years, that will be enough for me.