Recalling winters in Minnesota, essayist Patricia Hampl wrote: “The cold was our pride, the snow was our beauty. It fell and fell, lacing day and night together in a milky haze, making everything quieter as it fell, so that winter seemed to partake of religion in a way no other season did, hushed and solemn.”
The season that officially begins around December 21 long has inspired Northern writers. In the snowy woods of Massachusetts in 1845 and ’46, Henry David Thoreau experienced winter in an up-close, personal way few of us can imagine while living in a cabin not a lot bigger than the shed you store your snow blower in today. He liked it.
“What fire could ever equal the sunshine of a winter’s day?” he asked rhetorically.
Writing about a similar forest, Robert Frost enjoyed “Stopping in Woods on a Snowy Evening.” He poetically reported the scene as, “lovely, dark and deep.”
Yet many Northwoods folks seem instead to echo the sentiment of poet E.E. Cummings who wrote, .’The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches,” or author Robert Byrne, who noted, “Winter is nature’s way of saying, ‘Up yours.’ “
Here, despite the fact that it happens every single year and the further fact that the past several have been cupcakes, winter is taken as a personal affront. Listen to people waiting outside. Listen to yourself. “It’s too cold. It’s too snowy or slushy or icy. It’s too dark. My car is an ice cube; my toes are cryogenic; my coat makes me look like a dolmada” (a big fat Greek stuffed grape leaf).
At the same time, Northwoods folks take pride in confronting and usually surviving winter. We enjoy telling friends in warm weather cities that when the sharp wind we call an Alberta Clipper blows, the small and the elderly are often swept away, to be caught eventually by forests which seem to be placed there just to catch them.
While we both gripe and brag about the winter, with heated homes and heated shops and if necessary heated socks and Thinsulate or goose-down coats, we really are not exposed to it all that much. Before all this “keep warm technology” came to the rescue, people seemed to face the frigid elements more often and with greater cheer.
Thoreau claimed that he “frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, a yellow birch or an old acquaintance among the pines.” That would be equivalent to trudging from Hwy 45 to Thousand Island Lake Road along Cty. B (are we having fun yet?) just to say hi to a shrub and then slog back. Discounting those who leap into the frigid lake waters just for fun or who jog in a blizzard, Thoreau would be as much on his own here as he was in his woods more than 1 1/2 centuries ago.
Don’t forget Grampa, who walked miles to school in waist deep snow uphill all the way and then had to walk home again, going uphill all the way to get there.
Another bit of nostalgia from my Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center.
Little bits of nature, gathered here and there
Combined with artistic fingers, creates a beauty rare .
This shows a bit of heaven, never from the stars
But from the common things, in this old, cold world of ours.
The artist is contented, as she shows for all to see
How really beautiful these common things can be .
With spring just around the corner (even though it is looking more like winter outside my window!) it is time to evaluate our lives and see what needs to be dealt with. As you clean the corners of your earthly home, be sure to take a look at the corners of your inner being.
Let God search through all the things that are packed away deep inside, and allow Him to sort out which things to keep, and which to get rid of. As He cleans up the dirt in your life, be sure to let Him clean the windows of your soul so that God’s light will shine brightly to all you come in contact with.
Peter Dring is a retired nature biologist and phenologist who lives on the Land O’ Lakes area. To comment on this story, visit the “Outdoors” section of StarJournalNOW.com.