Last fall, a band of nimble men descended on our house. They ripped off crumbling shingles, tore up rotten plywood and installed a new metal roof, guaranteed for fifty years, considerably longer than I—at age sixty-five—expect to need it. Standing in the yard, surveying that smooth expanse, I thought, “We’ll be snug as bugs come winter.” I pictured the snow sliding easily from the roof and piling up around the foundation—natural insulation—to make the house extra snug. No more drafts, no more leaks, no more frozen pipes.
Of course, there’s more to snugging up for winter than a slippery new roof. We all have our rituals. I bag leaves and stuff them into crevices, trim the evergreens in the front yard—a buffer between house and road that grows thicker every year—then layer the clipped branches around the opening under the porch to discourage the cold from seeping in and encourage little animals to take shelter. Like many in New Hampshire, my husband and I work up cordwood. By the time it’s cut, split, stacked and lugged into the house, that wood has warmed us not twice, but several times.
Some prepare for winter by preserving their garden’s bounty. As the saying goes: We eat what we can, and what we can’t, we can. That bubbling vat of tomatoes transformed into jars of sauce on the pantry shelf brings the tang of summer to spaghetti noodles on a chill winter evening. Tomato paste in a hearty stew makes it even heartier. Wrap your hands around the warm bowl. Let the steam fill your nostrils.
If it’s freezing outside, I want to be warm, wrapped up and protected. Snug. When sailors “snug down” a ship, they fold the sails, secure the gear and batten the hatches.
In Britain, a “snug” is a secluded alcove in a pub where friends can settle by the fire and sip hot port with lemon and cloves. Or enjoy a fortifying pint of Guinness.
My cousin introduced me to hygge, a gift from the Danes—a way of living. The concept doesn’t translate into a single English word. Roughly, it means the contentment that comes from appreciating simple things. To my cousin, it means cozying up her home with winter whites and creams, furry blankets, thick socks, and candles. Few objects are more hygge than hand-knit mittens. The feeling of well being lives in the knitting, the giving and the wearing.
I asked friends, “How do you stay warm in winter?” Their responses had little to do with the temperature. An air-conditioned 68º indoors in steamy August is a relief. In frozen February, we shiver at 68º and consider clicking the thermostat up a notch or two, just for a little while. Keep moving, some said. Ski or snowshoe, with hot potatoes in your pockets. Layer up with long underwear, leggings, scarfs, house hats, flannel, heavy wool sweaters. Wrap up in a quilt and think kind thoughts. Meditate. Practitioners of Tibetan tummo control their body temperature with their minds! Snuggle with a spouse, a kitty, a dog or a rice baby—a knee sock stuffed with rice, tied off at the top and heated in the microwave.
Winter is not so bad if you’re prepared for it. When the temperature drops, the wind howls and the snow blows, we curl inward—grateful for shelter, grateful for the warmth of even a single candle. And sometimes, as the storm rages, if we’re very lucky, we get to say: Nobody’s going anywhere tonight. This little family is going to stay right here. All together. Snug.