By Laura Anne Bird | Photography by Hillary Schave | Shot on location at the Wisconsin Historical Society Library Reading Room
Chloe Benjamin gets asked about wintertime in Wisconsin a lot. “I’m from San Francisco, which is pretty much 50 to 70 degrees year-round, so people are often curious about how I’ve adjusted to living in the Midwest,” she says. “I struggle with the early sunsets, but I think winter is a magical season. Activities are limited, but this invites a slow, mindful pace; a spirit of creativity; and a focus on relationships.”
She says she’ll always remember how surreal it felt to walk on a frozen lake for the first time, and how she was invited to quintessentially wintry potlucks, which featured soup, stocking feet, glögg and eggnog.
After 12 years in Madison, Benjamin knows how to seek comfort when the weather is bleak.
“As an obsessive knitter, I love to cozy up to the fireplace with a project on my lap. I’m much newer to sewing, and it doesn’t come as naturally to me, but I’m embarking on my first quilt — and accepting that it may take a few years to finish. I also come from a maternal line of passionate bread bakers, and the recipes that my grandmother passed down are meals in and of themselves, with plenty of eggs and butter.”
And of course Benjamin turns to reading.
“There’s no simpler winter pleasure than holing up with a door stopper-sized tome next to a candle,” she says. Her favorites include “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee, “The Great Believers” by Rebecca Makkai, “Possession” by A.S. Byatt and “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “As for candles, I love the beeswax ones from Big Dipper Wax Works, available at Madison Chocolate Company.”
The author of two novels, Benjamin is at work on her third — and she shares that part of it takes place in a very wintry environment. “Without giving too much away, I’ll say it’s one of the poles! It’s a surreal, otherworldly place, and my characters have to get creative to sustain themselves both mentally and physically.”
Although impatient readers will have to wait for more details, Benjamin says that a theme of “looking” is central to the story. “It’s something we all can do, no matter how cold the weather is. We can pay attention to things like the rich pastels of a February sky, the texture of bark, the purple hidden in brown leaves.”