Andrew Cullen
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I'll miss you, winter- but no one else will

April 16, 2010 @ 12:04 AM | Permalink


The days are short, the nights long. The river freezes and the land turns monochrome, rust brown and gray on the steppes and frozen blues in the mountains. The view from our apartment is an expressionist palette of muted colors and uncertain shapes through the quarter inch of ice frozen on the inside of the window. You put on six and seven layers of clothes before venturing outside. Mongolia is winter’s domain, and the season does not relinquish its grasp easily.


Certainly not this year, when months of deep snow and arctic temperatures wreaked havoc on the country’s nomadic herders and their livestock- a tenth of the nation’s animals have died since January. Now, in the third week of April, winter has broken, but not disappeared. The river, still flanked by ice, is rushing with melt water. A few brave trees have begun to unfurl tight buds of future-leaves, and the temperature has peaked above freezing on consecutive recent days.

I welcome the new season for the sake of the struggling herders I met with in February and March, and to escape the constant inquiry of “Are you cold?” from Mongolian acquaintances not yet convinced that an American should be able to survive their fearsome winters, but I am always disappointed when the snow begins to release the mountains ringing Hovd and winter makes its quiet exit.


I’ll admit to thriving perversely from challenges. And the Mongolian spring is not much better a friend than winter. Winter is a lethargic regime that makes you forget that the other seasons had even come and gone, but spring here is a gritty mess of false-promise mornings and blinding sandstorm afternoons, blackouts, and little of the flowery April optimism inherent in more temperate regions.


I’ll admit too, that spring leads to summer, and Mongolian summers are a glorious explosion of rambling adventures, carefree afternoons, and 10 p.m. sunsets. It’s a transient state though, and the truth is that winter is the essence of Mongolia. It is somehow more still, more silent, and yet more dynamic than at any other time of year. And while summer is great fun, the depths of winter here are truly awesome.

In spite of my fondness for epic winters, there isn’t much to gain from mourning its end. Trying to keep up with the times, I took a walk with my dog and my camera a few days ago. I was not the only person with the same idea, and it was obvious from the number of people in the streets and the energy that filled that air that I am in a considerable minority in wishing that it would just go ahead and stay cold right up through June.

Children raced through the dirt lanes between their yards. Mothers carried their infants out into the fresh air. A few wheeling kites waited for the rest of their mates to return from migration, and for the summer picnics that they will pester like sea gulls at a busy beach front.


Winter may be leaving me, and Mongolia, but I suppose I can get through the next few months of outdoor activity, bare arms, and watermelon lunch breaks. After all, I know it will be back some day. 



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