The sun dipped below the horizon from the Slope when the last bout of laughter from my friends faded into appreciative silence. “Should we go?” my friend asked, settling her gaze on me — the person who consistently offers the most resistance to departing a sunset viewing. The dimming collage of pink, purple and orange not warranting a struggle, I stood and relented. I respected my friend’s desires, but not because the view was any less beautiful: Staying would entail my friend physically shaking through her discomfort. She wanted to leave not because of how the sunset looked, but because of how it was starting to make her feel: cold.
Over the next month, rapidly falling temperatures and vanishing daylight will reassert winter weather as the central life-shaping force in Ithaca. In response, everybody will unpack the heavy winter coat they’ve dreaded seeing again, take the TCAT instead of walking to class, briskly pass friends outside instead of stopping to talk and complain about how their boots don’t make walking in the snow any easier. But Cornellians, it doesn’t have to be this way. The cold winter that descends onto campus over the next several months can show you the true beauty of Cornell’s surroundings and community can have a positive effect not just on our everyday experiences.
“Ithaca is Gorges” is more than an unofficial town slogan. On Cornell’s campus, it’s a visually verifiable fact. Central, Collegetown, North and West are divided only by the picturesque natural boundaries of gorges and the Slope. Standing at the top of the most frustrating of these boundaries, you can see hilltops higher than our own, valleys that connect us to the real world and the lake which we owe the existence of Ithaca to. This landscape is beautiful in the five-or-so warm months we have each year. And yet, colder weather can provide an even more awe-inspiring beauty.
Beauty is a reason to like Ithaca barren. The red, orange and yellow leaves of the past few weeks are awe-inspiring any time, and in the golden light of a sunny afternoon, few views on this planet can match them. After these leaves have been chased away by tiny, white flakes, there is still beauty. The middle of any snowfall offers unparalleled peace and quiet to wild animals and college students alike. The blankets of pristine, white powder on the surrounding hills ensure that some peace remains after the clouds part and the sun comes out. Even when the harshest conditions are upon us, the light from houses and cars across the valley and lake take on new meaning. No longer a mere indication that civilization in Ithaca does exist, they become like small, individual fires, marking other groups of people fighting to stay warm the same way that we are during suddenly-interminable walks from class to class.
Warmth is a reason to like Ithaca cold. In the summer months, warmth has one inevitable result: sweat. Every step outside is accompanied by a drop of sweat. And on a campus this big, that means a lot of sweat. This sweat isn’t just uncomfortable while you’re walking though, because as soon as you go inside, the beads either start to cool and make you squirm as soon as you sit down or you just continue to be, well, sweaty. During these hellish weeks, you may feel like even your clothes fight against you, because as your body tries to regulate its temperature, there are only so many layers you can take off.
Consider that winter actually gives you the opportunity to choose the level of warmth you want to have. Being indoors provides relief in cold weather, as opposed to simply exacerbating your discomfort when it’s warm outside. Whether it’s because you put on a sweater and then wrapped a blanket around yourself, had a plate of hearty, soul-warming food or sipped hot cocoa with marshmallows from your favorite mug, there are few feelings in the world as good as warming up after a bone-chilling walk home from Central.
That said, no drink can deny winter’s isolating effects. Seasonal affective disorder, responsible for 10 million Americans’ depression every year, can be especially difficult for students from warmer climates. It manifests itself in our avoidance of social activity and is only exacerbated by the hills — the same ones that provide beautiful vistas — becoming perilous to go down when rain becomes snow, as many a fallen pedestrian can attest to.
But, these same elements of Ithaca winters provide an opportunity to build community to counteract this isolation. While we usually connect to each other by comparing stress levels from work, cold weather provides a different outlet for venting. Instead of competing with each other as part of the stress olympics, we’re united against a common enemy in our own winter olympics. With lower stakes than discussions about academics, conversations about difficult weather had over warm meals, while drinking hot beverages and in warm clothes can help us build friendships and community that we lean on when the going gets tough academically or personally.
One week from today, the sun will set before five o’clock. Ready or not, winter is coming. Let’s take out our coats, step outside and see winter as the opportunity it really is.
Giancarlo Valdetaro is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Far Above runs every other Monday this semester.