Life has a very different rhythm when our family gathers at Windrock in winter. The bay beyond the picture windows belongs to the Brant and Eiders, and winter sticks bob at moorings instead of boats. I can remember times when Buzzard's Bay would freeze for miles offshore, thick enough to walk upon for those who would brave the broken slabs uplifted by the tide, and even to skate across its salty rime. Such ice leaves the shore without the whisper of a wave, a majestic absence of sound in the stillness of the world.
While the outdoors have allure in winter, the pace of family life moves inside the big house, less than half of which is heated. In some winters, you can keep food refrigerated in the cold part of the house, and those who by lot or inclination pass the night in these unheated rooms have learned the value of flannel sheets and wool blankets. The plywood "Wall of Jericho" that closes off the warm side from the cold upstairs used to be an impermeable barrier, until those making the long, frozen trek in the dark down the front stairs and up the back to find a bathroom got the idea to cut and hinge a door in it. It was either that, or use a chamber pot (of which the house still has several).
As we slowly replace the rattling casements with modern windows, the wind does not moan through the thin walls on the cold side quite as dramatically as it once did. Still, for a late Victorian, shingle- style summer home that has assumed year-round duties, it creaks and groans in both light breeze and heavy gale. Elias found the settling noises of the old house a bit disconcerting when going off to bed the night we arrived. "Mom?", he said, upon learning that the house was making those strange sounds, "is it alive?"
During the day, the cold part of the house is the realm of the children. The clash of wooden swords could be heard on the other side today, wielded by my offspring and their cousins. Unless the cold is truly bitter, they can pile up cushions to make forts among the draped furniture, delve into costume boxes and parade about in cowboy boots, and as long as they remember to shut the doors behind them when passing between subarctic to temperate climes they are largely left to their own devices. Their parents gather in the kitchen or the large living room, the two vast heated spaces on the first floor of this many gabled house. There are numerous fireplaces and two of them function safely (one on either side of the thermal divide). There is a wood furnace in the basement as well as conventional heat, though it hasn't been used in years. The ductwork for both carry sounds from one floor to another and are good ways for children to eavesdrop after bedtime on the discussions of their elders below.
We have managed large family gatherings here during winter even with the limited heated space. Some of the younger members of my generation just toss a sleeping bag on a sofa downstairs and forgo the beds available in the cold part of the house. Others risk electrocution by electric blankets from the knob and tube era. You come to know the true meaning of warmth beneath half a dozen blankets if your nose freezes when it pokes out from beneath the comforter.
In summer fog blows through the open windows of the big house and bare feet track sand across its wooden floors. Winter comes inside as well on the cold side of the house, but hearts are still warm within.