Clair McFarland: Winter Starts When Everything Breaks Or Pukes

Clair McFarland writes: “Winter starts when my car breaks down and my kid starts puking."

Clair McFarland

December 15, 20234 min read

Clair and the cat

Winter starts when my car breaks down and my kid starts puking.  

“Technically, winter starts next Thursday,” say people who enter conversations with the word “technically.”  

But we Wyomingites know a higher truth than the calendar.  

Winter starts when something breaks, and your fingers burn with cold trying to fix it. The season also brings a zoo-like cacophony indoors.  

A talented columnist (my former editor) used to stress that winter is the quiet season.  

The year is old, the birds have flown. A desert snow insulates my cautious footfalls on the path to my woodpile. The wind has no leaves to rustle, no picknickers to anger. Anyone bored enough to start an organization and a raffle has retreated to the bubble behind a smartphone or a newspaper to brew new concerns.  

The outside hush crystalizes, cakes the trees’ forked limbs with its smothering hoarfrost shards. I can hear my breath’s strict meter.  

Yes, it’s quiet outside.  

But like matter, noise doesn’t vanish. It simply converts to a more convenient form. Meaning, the whole parading, picnicking, cawing cacophony of summer crams itself into the home.  

And the car.  

Guh-THUNK, said my car as I neared a lonely stop sign.  

I threw it in park, put on the hazards, hopped out and checked underneath it to see if an ice chunk had dislodged somewhere and jogged its underbelly, but there was nothing. I got back in the car and drove forward, but the noise recycled: Guh-gungk-gungk-gungk-gungk.  

So I parked it and called The Husband, who picked me up in his truck.  

I don’t know the fate of my Honda Accord yet. I don’t know if its breakdown is my fault, if all the housewife-hot-rodding from school to school during a tight time window pushed it to unionize and call a strike.  

But trusting that The Husband would sort it out and that on some primal level, this is why men exist, I lived the rest of my evening in step with my woodstove’s crackling. I tucked in my children and went to bed.  

Mggr-BLURRRRRHH, said my middleborn son at midnight.  

The Husband groaned and trudged out to check on him.  

“Hey buddy, you OK?” The Husband asked.  

MWWUUULLLGHHH, Middleborn answered.  

I squinted my eyes shut as long as I could. But then I paced the cold floor to the bathroom, locked eyes with my little boy and rubbed his back as he leaned over the toilet for more puking.  

He finally bedded down about 2 a.m. Morning arrived one deceptive nanosecond of sleep later.  

The Husband started up the pellet stove, which is a demonic machine that shoots hellish hot-air jet streams into my hallway – and only my hallway – when everyone’s too tired to fetch real wood for our real woodstove.  

The pellet stove roars. My most delicious dreams feature me sledgehammering it and feeding its remains to our woodstove while a sharp silence descends.  

But there was no time for that today. Today, Middleborn shuffled out to the pellet stove, forced open his eyes and rested his clammy forehead on its upper surface.  

“Hey, buddy,” I said.  

“Oy,” Middleborn answered.  

The other boys woke, galloped out to the kitchen, slurped their cereal, bickered about whose turn it was to sit in front of the spewing demon, stuffed their feet into their clomping boots and stomped out to The Husband’s truck.  

My little puker slept on the couch.  

I crept outside to get wood and kindling for my humble woodstove. Frost bits flaked from a reigning mist, but nothing else stirred.  

It’s winter.  

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter