From year to year you never knew what the winter was going to be like. Always cold, of course, always subzero temperatures and constant wind down the streets and always, always breath freezing in the hairs of your nose, or hanging as icicles from the tips of your mustache, but beyond that things were up in the air. Sometimes there’d be snow, and sometimes there wouldn’t be; sometimes there’d be drifts of snow over the sidewalks until the end of April, snow that got drier and icier and sharper as the winter wore on, brittle as glass, and sometimes there’d be nothing, just brown grass that stayed brown through Christmas and Groundhog Day and Easter, with grey earth cracking between the blades.
Here the winters are more constant, always greasy cold that gets between your fingers and your bones and sits there and aches, even inside, even in sweaters, even with the heat turned up to ninety, a sweaty, inescapable cold at forty degrees Fahrenheit. In the mornings always fog and always your breath pluming before you, swirling like cigarette smoke. The air in Iowa was too dry for fog, too cold to carry your breath up to your eyes. In six years resenting the hills and skies for all their blueness too close to the earth, I never saw my breath, never saw winter curling into the air.