These are sick people; we know that. They're good to have as friends, these cheery souls who can rationalize anything. But the rest of us carry a deep genetic distrust of any season that raccoons feel compelled to skip.
You love buying lift tickets? Have you forgotten Valley Forge? The Siege of Leningrad? Scott at the Pole? The last Ice Age and the land bridge? Okay, maybe that last one was too long ago.
In late August, when the first maverick maples prematurely turn, I go through all the Kübler-Ross stages of winter denial. I refuse to accept it. September is a fabulous month around here, maybe our best, so that helps. Most Octobers are great, too.
But November is hard to handle: Days are really short. Our six-month cloudy season begins suddenly, hiding what's left of the sun. Outdoor smells vanish. Summer's visually fascinating cumulus clouds get abruptly replaced by the cold-weather overcast. And when it first hits 40, it's awful; our bodies aren't used to it. You too?
Friends who've fled to Florida begin each phone call the same way: "It's really chilly this morning - got down to 55 degrees," and they chuckle. You think: "I'm gonna kill you."
So I mark off the ticks of winter's clock - the meaningful ticks, not the calendar ones. The ancients did this too. They knew that the sun itself, and nature, dictate the seasons. If we follow this, we should feel pretty good right around now. Let me share with you winter's annual tick marks, because most folks are unaware of most of them.
The sun shines with weakest intensity for 13 weeks a year. It emits a medium intensity for 26 weeks, and strongest intensity for 13 weeks. That weakest section runs from November 1 to February 5. In one sense, this marks winter. We could call it Sky Winter. When this period ends - as it did this past week - you can feel the sun's renewed strength on your skin, no matter what the calendar says.
Milestone 1: So November 1 is when our winter season really begins.
Milestone 2: This is December 7, our earliest sunset. Afternoons are darkest. Since we're all awake and active then (but not necessarily at dawn), this date marks the "dead of winter" in terms of light, on the most personal level. After December 7, so far as I and other rationalizers are concerned, things start improving in one important way: sunnier afternoons.
Milestone 3: The Solstice on December 21. This official start of winter also coincides with the longest night and the very weakest sun - which means that the very next day, those factors start to improve. By now, the sun already sets two minutes later than it did on December 7.
Milestone 4: This little-known goalpost, the first week of January, is the earliest sunrise. After this, mornings brighten.
Milestone 5 is the statistically coldest time of winter: the third week of January around here. This year it coincided with our actual coldest week. By the end of January, the "normal coldest" is behind us. The air is finally catching up with the higher, stronger, longer-out sun.
Milestone 6 is February 5. This is a big one. Groundhog Day [Imbolc or Candlemas, to Pagans] used to mark the halfway point between the Solstice and Equinox. Over the centuries, midwinter has shifted to February 5. The weakest-sun period is now over; we begin three months of moderate solar strength. Also, the sun's track against the background stars now reaches the place where it moves northward most rapidly. Sunlight starts increasing at its maximum rate. We gain two or three minutes each and every day.
This is the part of the cycle that we've just entered. Each week now, the noonday sun is five sun-widths higher up. Five! That's huge. Since its strength comes solely from its height in the sky, this creates a fast and enormous improvement in solar intensity.
Sure, official spring is still many weeks away. It doesn't matter. That final seventh milestone, the Equinox, is almost an afterthought.
You now have permission to return to denial. With only a single milestone remaining, let's call winter over. Wake up the coons.