Sunshine every day, warm waves and cool cocktails at the beach bar – for many people, these are the perfect ingredients for a vacation, but to a winter fan, they are just plain dreary and monotonous.
I bumped into an old friend on the street a while back; I hadn’t seen him in a long time. And the way you do when you haven’t seen someone for a really long time, we got to talking about this and that. At some point, he got onto the subject of a friend of his with whom I also had more than a passing acquaintance. He had left his native Kiel in northern Germany years ago after meeting a Brazilian beauty and falling in love with her. He followed her to her country, and soon it was his country, too. So now he lives in the northern corner of Brazil, between the mouth of the Amazon and the border to French Guyana, where the beaches seem endless and the water is a constant 27° Celsius year in, year out. This guy was working as a surf teacher there, my friend told me. Yes, he had fulfilled his dream of endless summer.
While my friend was saying all this, he took on a wistful look – and just went on and on about the guy: “He wants for nothing, only rarely gets a little homesick, you know, for the smell of sprats or a swig of dry, bitter beer from an iconic North German swing-top bottle. Can’t be bad, I’d say. It’s summer all the time in Brazil, palms everywhere, sunshine from morning till night, and the only problem is that a coconut could fall on your head.”
I nodded, agreed with him, and after we had mused a while longer on life in a hammock and the possible consequences of a coconut falling on your head, we said goodbye, but not without first assuring each other that we wouldn’t leave it so long till we met the next time, although we both knew it was more likely to be just the same all over again. I went on my way, thinking of Brazilian beaches. But the longer I pondered what I’d heard, the less attractive the idea of eternal summer appeared to me.
You see, I look forward to winter every time it turns up on the doorstep like an unannounced, but eminently welcome guest. I also like the snow it sometimes brings with it and always hope it will fall in large quantities and that lots of snowflakes will flutter down overnight so that the snow plows have their work cut out for them early next morning, that the traffic will grind to a halt and that people will pull their small kids to school on sledges. Winter is the anarchist among seasons, the one that now and then, for a short time, turns the world completely upside down. And it takes you back to your own childhood. In wintertime, you do things you would never otherwise do and have all but forgotten, like rolling snow into snowballs and piling them up to make snowmen with carrot noses and chestnut eyes and crooked twigs for arms. And at the latest when a hard-packed snowball hits you on the head, you suddenly remember how it used to be, back in the day.
One of the best things about snow is its effect on sound. Snow changes everything. There’s very little to match the stillness of a winter forest; you hear nothing but the sound of your own breath and the creaking and crunching of your shoes. The snow also absorbs sounds, but then a branch will give way beneath its burden of snow, sending fine white powder cascading to the ground only to be followed by the peace that reigned before. It isn’t just the snow that makes winter so special, though; it’s also the cold, and the glacial clarity of the air. Winter reveals how things change, how they come to an end. But winter never turns up without the promise of departure. Spring will follow on its heels and with it, a new beginning. It is a promise you know will be kept. You can always rely on good old winter.
I really ought to call my friend sometime soon and tell him that the longer I thought about it, the idea of an ocean that’s always a balmy 27° Celsius warm and a region without changing seasons but with everlasting sunshine simply seemed totally boring.