In Praise of North

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I never cared for palm trees and coconuts and would trade a week in the tropics for one day in the tundra.

That’s because I love the geographic North. Give me crisp, cold weather, snow, boreal and deciduous forests, icy mountains, northern legends and fairy tales, the aurora borealis, Santa Claus, fur hats and winter clothes, skiing, snow-shoeing, and hunkering down when a huge snowstorm threatens. Is there a softer peace in the world than a new snowfall or a greater exhilaration than a howling winter wind?

In fact, while many imagine a heaven that softly chirps and gurgles across a temperate montage, I hope to spend eternity in a savage and majestic alpine landscape amidst snow-capped peaks, mountain meadows, and glacial lakes, where giant bears, great elk, lynx, eagles, and arctic wolves freely roam. North is more than a direction on the compass—it’s a spiritual guide to a Far Land, pure and remote.

Yes, give me such a climate than stimulates the soul and challenges the mind.

Perhaps it’s because I came into the world during a monumental January blizzard that held my mother snowbound, preventing her from reaching the hospital. Thus, I was born at home in—as I love to reflect—the same room and same bed in which I was conceived and in which, years later, my father on a bright autumn day would pass from the world.

Or, perhaps it’s because I grew up and lived for many years in the Northeastern US.

Yet, many of my fellow denizens rejected the inclemency and lit out for balmy climes as soon as life allowed.

I can’t precisely blame my borealphilia on genes; while my American mother had northern European ancestors, my father hailed from sunny, southern Italy—land of olive trees, three-hour afternoon naps, and soft Mediterranean breezes. But as much as I can fall under the spell of a sweet Italian aria, I’d rather savor it in front of a warm fire somewhere with a crisp air outside.

Of course, I cherish other northern seasons as well. Who doesn’t dream of the glorious springs, the halcyon summers, and the dazzling autumns of the Northland? But even they serve mainly to contrast and build crescendo to the mighty dark solstice that sits at the center of my yearly rotation.

I confess that time and career callings have for the last two decades settled me in the Mid-Atlantic region, where summers often oppress and winters, like Punxsutawney Phil, are sometimes hard to coax out of hiding. Here, most of my Northern longings must wait for vacation times or be content with National Geographic specials (Wild Russia and Himalaya, two of my favorites).

Still, I am happy to report that this year bought us a long, brutal winter, so I take heart.

Family members tell me to give it a few more years and I’ll be begging for the palm-drenched Florida condo. I doubt it. The North and its weather, landscape, and legend hold too much wonder—a wonder I think I’ll need more than ever when I enter my winter years.

So, while I shovel snow from the driveway and sidewalk for perhaps the last time this year, I prepare to bid a sad farewell to deep winter and northern dreams. And, with apologies to the poet Shelly, I’m left to pine: if spring comes, can winter be far behind?

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