Here's the deal: I used to hate winter. Not your typical, "Ugh, I'm so tired of the cold, I wish it was summer already", kind of hate, but next-level, full on loathing. Before I moved to Los Angeles, winter was a scourge on my soul. I didn't have a garage, so every time the flakes flew, I would stomp down to the street in my completely inadequate gear (I refused to give in and buy a decent pair of boots, because that would have meant winter had won), and I'd hack away at the ice and snow, brushing like a madwoman and muttering curse words under my breath. During the winter of Snowmaggedon, which was my last winter in Minnesota, I didn't even bother to keep quiet; I'd stalk around my car flinging snow everywhere and shouting obscenities with each gesture, occasionally kicking the tires for emphasis and shaking my fists and the heavens.

I am not exaggerating. 

I had always assumed that everyone else felt the same way as me, but while I was in California, I started noticing an interesting trend: northern pride. I'm sure it existed before I left, but I had been blinded by my own negative bias. While I was rejoicing about going to the beach and wearing tank tops in the middle of February, my friends back home were rejoicing and posting photos of skiing adventures and sunrises over frozen lakes and pine trees laden with snow. No complaining (okay, almost no complaining, because one of the things Minnesotans reserve the right to do is vent about how much winter is getting them down); just a proud, shared sense of toughness about the region's collective ability to make it through the kind of harsh, bitter, snowy weather that would (and does) shut other areas of the country down.

To my surprise, I eventually started to miss the colder weather. I had sworn that LA would be the place I'd live until I died, because I was that confident that I wouldn't miss the seasons, and I definitely wouldn't miss the period of time that fell between December and March. 

And then...I did. The eternal summer of southern California began to wear on me. It was sunny almost every day, and it sounds absurd, but the sunshine began to make me feel depressed. Without changing weather and temperatures, I had nothing to gauge the passing of time. The seasons provide variety, which, as it turns out, is something I need to thrive. I began to get overly excited when rain was in the forecast (which was basically never). And I started to travel home more often, first in the spring, and then more than once in the fall, so I could take deep breaths and let my brain cells celebrate the scent of decaying leaves and crisp autumn air. 

There was a blizzard in Minnesota yesterday. My area received ten inches of snow, and as I write this, there are still flakes wandering down from the sky. The storm started at around noon, and I left work at two o'clock; it took me twenty-five minutes to get there, and over an hour to get home. But to my surprise, I wasn't the slightest bit crabby. I've been pleasantly surprised like that a lot this winter. The things that used to make me rage in anger, I now take in stride. I have a badass winter coat, hefty snow boots, and, best of all, a garage.

But most importantly, my attitude has changed. Now, instead of seeing our long winter as a curse, I see it as an opportunity to enjoy activities that many other people don't get to. This winter, I've already gone snowshoeing multiple times. I've walked around on frozen lakes, watched beautiful snowfalls, and played broomball. I've marveled at thickly frozen waterfalls and waves chunky with ice washing up on the shores of Lake Superior. I have plans to go ice fishing, skiing, and exploring many more times before the snow melts. Yesterday, instead of going straight home, I went to the park and drove around, jumping out of the car at random intervals, whipping out my iPhone and taking pictures of the storm, which you are seeing in this post. I turned onto a closed road and almost got stuck in a snowdrift, and I laughed the whole time. If you tried telling 2011 Rachel that something like that was even a remote possibility, she'd probably smack you in the face. 

None of this is to say that winter can't be a drag. The days are short, and the season is long. There are more clouds than sun. But here in the north, we are prepared. We light candles and fires, wrap ourselves in blankets, make hot whiskey drinks, and then go play in the snow. We embrace it for what it is, knowing that it makes us strong, and that it makes the other seasons - and there are other seasons, full of warmth and sunshine and colors - that much more enjoyable. I've never felt so much pride for my homeland, and I've never felt so much like I belong. Now, no matter where I go, I can proudly claim it as my own. Not taking a place for granted is a beautiful thing, and for me, it took leaving to fully appreciate that there is so much to be grateful for right here at home.