And now we come barreling out of the season of winter wonderlands and into true winter, and that’s fine by me: I love the holidays, with all their carols and cookies, but I love January in North Carolina, too — because January begins the season of sleet.
Depending on where you live along the mountains-to-sea continuum, you might have already seen winter weather a handful of times. By January, though, all of us can reasonably hope for it. And yes, I know: Snow is the rock star of winter. Snow paints the colors of the accumulation maps; snow closes schools. Sleet, though, is porch weather. Sleet asks that you bundle up and take a cup of coffee outside, that you stand on your front steps to listen for the unmistakable, near-metallic ticking on the neighbor’s magnolia leaves across the street. Sleet signals a storm reconsidering, changing over from snow. Sleet is hopeful, in its own way. Here is another way we might do this, the storm says. Here’s what we can try instead of ice on the branches.
I’m a bit of a weatherhead, so I’m usually stocked up on groceries days before, and I get to watch the weather come in without any last-minute erranding and rushing around — you know, the way I promise myself I’ll be every Christmas, but then end up on a frenzied Christmas Eve shopping trip for books and bicycles and that one jar of pepper jelly. For a storm, of course, the shopping list makes more sense: The half-dozen or so ingredients for homemade chicken noodle soup. The dozen for meatballs. Hot chocolate. Coffee. A little something stronger, in case it’s sleeting during cocktail hour.
Being ready is part of the joy. I don’t mind the power going out: We’ve got a fireplace and a gas water heater, and the little shed out back has a woodstove in case of true emergency. I like the way a storm strips most things away. What remains are meals and sledding and drying wet clothes and listening to the sleet. We had a huge storm last year, and after the snow slowed, I took the dog out to walk the neighborhood in a thin sleet, the sound of it almost like pouring salt out of a box. By the time we got home, my footsteps had gone crunchy, the crust over the top of the snow promising good, fast rides for the neighborhood kids the next morning.
Hello, Carolina January, with your oscillating low gray skies and blazing blue days. I love you. I love you perhaps more than December, because now the pressure’s off, the holidays have slid past, and the decorations, soon enough, will be back in their boxes. I’m ready for the slow grind of cold nights, for a storm that seems possible six days out. I’ve eaten homemade French fries on the front porch in 75-degree weather here, and that may well be in the offing, too, but if we’re going to catch a big storm, now’s the time. Let’s stock up on groceries. Let’s make sure we have plenty of coffee. We’ll perhaps dig into the closets, make sure all the snow gear fits everybody. We’ll watch the huge, soft flakes drifting down, piling up in the yard, promising no work, no school, no anything at all. Let’s watch the night turn orange in the sodium glare of the streetlights reflecting off the snow. But let’s stay up a little longer, watch those flakes slow down, watch the storm start to turn. And listen — you hear that? My father, when I was a kid, would call me from wherever I was in the house: Hey, come to the door, come outside, come hear this. It’s sleeting. Come listen.