February, ah February. How I love reveling in your monochromatic , sheet metal sameness day after twenty-eight days.
If April is the cruelest month, then February is the grayest. Or so I thought. After two trips this winter, one south and one, believe it or not, north, I have come to the conclusion that upstate New York may indeed be the geographic oddity I have been claiming it to be for the last thirty years. As in, the sun doesn’t shine on those of us who choose to call the capitol of New York home. As in, while others may bask in the brilliance of the winter sun, those of us in this world north of Manhattan simply must bundle up, toss our Ray Bans aside for a few months, and resolve ourselves to the fact that the grayness is here and here alone.
But I get ahead of myself. Allow me to review my travels this winter, and perhaps this will shed some light on the whole gray, upstate thing. We started in late January, my wife and I flying south to visit our daughter in sunny central Florida. We stayed in Orlando, and although it wasn’t as warm the week we were there as it was forecasted to be the week later, it still had our Siberian homeland beat by, believe it or not, seventy degrees in heat. What passed as chilly for Floridians, and, yes, there were many who commented on the unseasonably cold temps, we viewed as downright balmy. We even wore shorts and tee shirts on our last day there. But beyond the heat, the real kicker was the sun. The old Vitamin D machine really got us cooking and probably rejuvenated the already waning stores of sun-kissed happiness that our New York summer and fall provided. No sun burn, but lots of warm glows. It really is no surprise why people who retire in New York go to Florida in winter.
But then we came home and had two weeks of lock solid gunmetal skies before we departed for the Great White North. Two weeks of intermittent snow, sleet, rain, thaw, slush, and icicles before we joined my brother-in-law and sister-in-law for a quick excursion to Montreal. Four days within the borders of our friendly northern neighbors. And, yes, it was cold. Kind of. In reality, it wasn’t really colder than upstate New York, although we originally feared the worst and packed accordingly. What really got us was the unforeseen revelation that, despite its location in land of the Mounties way up yonder, it was sunny.
Now you have to understand that we came loaded for polar bear- pardon the expression- with our parkas and ski jackets, gloves, and scarves, and yes, it was cold. But the Canadians do it right. Montreal’s extensive underground allowed us to travel with just sweatshirts and sneakers, and I really do think we could have stayed underground for the entire trip and never once braved the outside world. But the sun, the glorious sun, beckoned to us, and we opted often to walk the fifteen minutes from our hotel (the Bonaventure- highly recommended) to Old Montreal’s many breweries, museums, and tourist attractions. It just felt right.
But it left me wondering, as we made our way down the Northway on our way home, why Montreal wasn’t gray, like Albany? I mean, I can understand Florida being sunny, it is the “Sunshine State” after all, but why wasn’t this city, so alike in age and geography to my own city, also alike in it’s silvery patina? Why wasn’t the great northern grayness universal?
I suppose I could look into the science behind it. I’m sure that it has something to do with the mountain ranges and local river configuration. Geography and magnetic lines of force, maybe. But I don’t think I will pursue the Earth Science. I think, instead, I’m just going to allow myself the wild idea that Albany truly should be renamed Gray-bany. That to live here is to be able to hunker down and sustain yourself when the sky is washed clean of all color and the stores of natural light have been drained. That it somehow makes us stronger, but certainly not happier; it seems that people in other spots are, again with a pun, sunnier than us. I’ll live with this notion of my hometown as a proving ground for the seasonally affected, that if you can make it here in winter you can make it anywhere. I’ll even put a little chip, albeit an ice chip, on my shoulder and flaunt it in front of all of those warm weather seekers.
But I’ll also remember that when I retire in nine years- the financial gods willing- I, too, will seek out the sun in January, February, and March. I love my hometown, but, come on, we all need a little sunshine.
PS- today, in the face of a high wind warning that ripped through the area and downed power lines, it seems that the sun made a grand entrance. Funny, it seemed as if the wind scrubbed the skies clean and cleared out the clutter for the sun to shine through. For a brief moment I reconsidered publishing this piece, then the frigid wind whipped outside my window, misty snow became airborne, the power went out, and I lost all the doubts I had.