Well, the Kurents are back and that is very good news.
These are shaggy mythological creatures — roughly a cross between Oscar the Grouch and David Letterman’s mystifying new beard — who, according to Slovenian lore, drive out winter and summon spring.
Fun-loving Slovenians hold Kurent festivals and even showed up in costume at the Olympic Games in South Korea. A heat wave in Pyeongchang was not immediately reported but it was the effort that mattered most.
Whatever it takes, I say.
Winter wears thin at this point. We’ve had far worse, of course — remember those years with 15 and 16 snowstorms? — but, halfway through my supply of ice melt, weary of executing double axels on slippery front steps, resentful that I have to squeeze, like bratwurst, into long johns before an afternoon walk, I just want it to be over.
I want spring. I want buds on the branch. I want baseball, Mets included.
Management promises again this year the team will be triumphant. I believe that the way I believe I will beat the Powerball odds. But I don’t care. Like the Slovenian Kurents, baseball is life affirming. Hurry, Opening Day.
To take the edge off winter, Wink and I try each year to go to Key West for a few days.
As you may know, Key West is a lovably zany place.
People drink at the open-air bars — a sure, if temporary, aid to exuberance — and consume oceans of peel-and-eat shrimp. At the waterfront each evening, there is a kind of carnival with flying cats and flame-eaters, wacky stuff of all sorts. There is theater and music and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville saloon and associated curio shop, where it is possible to spend nearly $15 for a corkscrew with parrot motif.
In January, literary figures from all over gather for a conference. One time my wife, Wink, and I saw the great Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood — author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” — walking along Duval Street, the main drag, with Joyce Carol Oates, the amazing American writer who seems to turn out a book every two weeks. They were chatting like crazy. I wondered if maybe they were off to see the flying cats.
Wink and I have a grand time, wandering around in the sun (unmentioned will be the year we arrived during a cold snap and had to sleep in clothes because the motel lacked heat), returning to favorite haunts and looking dreamily at condominium photos in the windows of real estate offices.
We stay only a few days — travel is expensive — and then it’s back to Long Island and the rigors that await. Once, we returned after a nor’easter to find the neighbors had dug out our driveway and cleared a path to the house. Folks, if you happen to see this, thanks again.
Plenty of people we know beat the chill by heading south — not for a few days but a couple months, sometimes never to come back. It’s as though they wandered into an enchanted kingdom and became spellbound by sunbeams and aloha shirts. “Sell the house,” they tell the kids. “Send us the check.”
I have an old Brooklyn friend, Freddie from Prospect Park Southwest, who now lives in rural South Carolina. He wears overalls and tells me he intends to raise chickens. For a guy who once favored white buck loafers and showed no interest in animal husbandry, redeploying to Dixie seems to me an astounding development. “How is it?” I ask. “Top o’ the world,” he says.
My sister-in-law and her husband have a snazzy place on the west coast of Florida. Once, Carol took their dog, Wrigley, for a morning walk through the mangroves only to be approached by an alligator eyeing the dog as I might a stack of blueberry pancakes. Carol hurried off unharmed, Wrigley in tow, and now laughs about the encounter.
No, tropical adventures and chicken farming are not the answer to winter from my point of view. Turns out, there is no answer.
Even if those Key West condos were affordable — and they’re not — I’m staying put.
What’s summer without winter, I ask myself? Wind smacking the face strengthens the spirit and permits the occasional sip of brandy. Spreading rock salt keeps the arm limber in anticipation of summer softball tosses.
Cold weather has its virtues, I suppose.
Still, I want it over.
And — what do you know? — just the other day, temperatures soared briefly into the 60s. Makes you wonder if maybe those Slovenians in shaggy suits are on to something.