I like winter not for its opportunities for recreating in the snow, but for its isolating effects. I like the solitude.
I like how the sluggish air and white billows muffle the world. I like that in a good storm or on a dank evening I can see only a few hundred yards, in optimal conditions a few hundred feet.
This winter I’ve acquired the habit of going out for a walk in the evenings. I leave my home sometime between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. and will stroll for thirty or forty-five or ninety minutes, depending on where my nose takes me. I take with me fine tobacco, an old camera, keys, and a lighter.
I don’t have a set route, and often I don’t see anything extraordinary. Sometimes I’ll notice a chainlink fence and how the snowflakes catch its oxidized surface, stack up loosely to a maximum height of about a pinky’s width. I’ll notice a dog bark from a side yard.
Sometimes I’ll stop and stare at a crooked tree for awhile, contemplate why I feel drawn to it. Nearly all trees are crooked and alive, so why is this one alluring? I’ll consider photographing it, but ultimately refrain from doing so because I can’t compose the image to exclude the old Ford Taurus with a hanging bumper, the dilapidated basketball hoop, or the wire that droops between two leaning poles. I’ll notice the silver that runs up and down the wet streets in shards, the slosh of car tires rolling the next block over. I once noticed a fire hydrant, there, all alone in the snow. I notice the homes that appear awkward, as though the ground has shifted beneath them. I saw a man in black, smoking, walking.
When I go out I wear a bluish wool overcoat, boots, and a hat. I like the overcoat because it feels like a blanket with buttons and because I bought it secondhand for $17. I won’t deny that I also take pleasure in the possibility that some people might find it odd, here in this lifestyle state, in these neighborhoods of sporty gear. I usually walk directly in the street since there isn’t much traffic, and I get the sense that passersby glare with intrigue at this overcoated man, smoking a pipe, carrying something large and black. A pervert, perhaps. A murderer.
Some nights I leave my wallet home, so as to remain nameless. I don’t wish to remain nameless because I intend to commit any crimes, but because it adds to the isolating, comforting effect. Who am I without my ID, a bank card, or whatever meaning can be deduced from my wallet itself? It’s cut from the belly of an alligator. Surely if I were hit by a car, stopped by an officer, the ID, tucked in my wallet, is what they’d want to discover first. Leaving that little piece of plastic home, with its letters and coordinates, its hologram of authenticity, feels dangerous. And I like that. Nothing to verify whether I truly exist.
When I return home I remove my coat, my sweater, my hat, and I go into the kitchen and wash my hands with a soap that smells slightly cinnamon. I dislike the smell of cinnamon, but it’s there. I wash because although the tobacco, to me, tastes like oak and hickory and vanilla and dried apricots, I’m told it doesn’t smell as such in its lingering, burnt form, never mind what it signifies—a disregard for health, poor example to my children, my slow and eventual death. This latter fact, I remind my wife, the one who abhors the smell, is true regardless of my hobbies.
I boil a kettle of water and pour it over lavender and chamomile. I wait five minutes. Then I bring the mug to my nose before tasting, listen to the dark.