Understand this: I like winter. I like it a lot. I like the snow and I don’t mind the cold. I like to ski and I like to snowshoe; winter’s my time. I think new snow under a January sun is a thing of beauty. I like the color of late afternoon shadow on the snow; it has a tint of blue and violet and it is a special color of winter alone. You won’t see that color at any other time of the year.
I like the chill of below zero mornings because until you’ve felt that cold you can’t fully appreciate warmth. I like to walk to work when it’s 20 below zero and I can wear my grandfather’s old raccoon skin coat that weight about 25 pounds (or at least feels like it) and comes down below my knees and is so warm I often do not need gloves or a hat. I have no idea how old the coat is but it has to be 80 years old if not more. I like that.
I think a cold winter day with new snow on the ground seems alive with spark of sun on snow crystal and you cannot duplicate that in any photo or on any Christmas card or in any painting; you have to step into that day and let it surround you in beauty and wonder.
I am in awe of the dark sky of a winter night when the stars shine with an intensity that you never know in summer. I like the precious nights when northern lights dance and sway and you feel in a special place with your head tilted back and your eyes open in wonder.
I like the cold and the snow if for no other reason than that is what we should have in Wisconsin; it’s part of who we are. It shapes us.
I like winter for a lot of reasons. I like it a lot.
Here’s one more thing I like: I like the feeling that comes when you know it will end. I like the optimism that comes on a warm day when the sun burns bright and you feel its heat for the first time in who knows how long. I like to walk outside in a world of snow and ice and see the fire in the sun and breathe that hint of freshness and dampness that was not there a day before. I like to stop and stand and feel the change in the air. I like that; I like it a lot.
And this winter you never saw that day. You did not see it in a January thaw; it never came this time around. You did not see it in early February, on Ground Hog day or Valentines Day, days when you might expect it. No, at those times you felt the cold, saw the thermometer read sub zero again. You never felt the optimism that comes, always comes, by mid February.
You did not feel that day until this week, Tuesday to be precise, when the temperature ran past 25 degrees, past 30 degrees to near 40 in a winter when 25 or 30 have been followed most often by the words “below zero.” And on Wednesday it did so again. And you knew on those days that change would come.
I skied Wednesday; it was my day off and on my days off in winter I ski. I skied with my sister in a world of fresh white snow and set track near perfect and in the rising warmth of late winter; it was 39 degrees when we stopped. It was the single best day on skis this season.
This has been a ski season of harsh cold, times of slow-moving skis on bitter days weighted by heavy gray cloud. I have not enjoyed my time on skis; there have been too many days of poor conditions and gloom and burden.
All that time, of course, with an eye on the American Birkebeiner this upcoming weekend, a 54;k (30 plus miles) romp over hill and dale from Cable to Hayward. I’ve done 36 of them and I vow to ski them as long as I can stand on skis and move forward to some degree. But this year has been a tough one; for me; for anyone else who has visions of toeing the line on the 22nd.
So it goes. They’ll hold the Birke again next year and I’ll be there if all goes well and maybe the winter will be kinder then. I do like winter; like it a lot.
But I liked the optimism of this week, on the days when the temperature broke into unfamiliar reaches and the sun came down with force and growing strength, as it does late February. I liked the feel of the change; I welcomed the notion of warmer days over the still-deep snow and of skiing yet to come and days of wonder ahead.
I like to look at the world at 5:30, 5:45 in the afternoon and be able to see across the street without the aid of street lights. I like the early morning taking back some of the night, bit by bit, minute by minute. I liked it the other day at 6:15 a.m. when the dogs woke me and I stumbled to the back door, opened it and let them out. I stood in a blast of cold air; below zero again.
And then I heard, in the high branches of a tree down the block, the song of a cardinal; clear and bold and strong in the face of the cold. And I knew that winter had turned.
This winter has seemed one out of Scandinavian legend, has brought to mind Norse gods of winter, gods with an attitude this year, gods who took hold of the season like a dog on a bone and held it and shook it and would not let it go. This one, this winter, has had some bite to it. The two days this week, they held hope.
I skied Wednesday, on the day that was a gateway to the end of winter. Next time on skis would be Saturday morning start line, 54k from the finish of a long, difficult day on the Birkebeiner trail. I turned on the computer; checked the weather for Thursday. Read: “Lowering and thickening clouds. A steady snow developing as the day wears on.” Read about five inches or 10 inches or who knows how much. Read of wind and temps below zero for the start.
And I thought, that forecast sounds like some poem. I rearranged the words:
Lowering and thickening clouds.
A steady snow
as the day wears on.
Yes, a dark poem of foreboding and dread, of ominous clouds (clouds that “thicken”), clouds that lower on ones head and of a day that “wears on” as if without end, as this winter has, for some, worn on. A poem for the winter, a poem the Norse gods would take comfort in.
Outside the sun was shining; it was still very warm. Water dripped from eaves, puddled on the driveway. Fenway, the puppy, and Lady, the cat, found places to nap in pools of sunlight in the living room.
The forecast lit up my computer: snow and cold and wind. Winter; nothing more, nothing less. And I knew as certain as I sat there that we are not done with winter. I knew what the groundhog called for. I know we’ll have more snow and more cold and more weather. We’ll have more winter, guaranteed. You can bank on it.
But I also knew that this week we saw the first sign of change. This week we felt the kiss of a rising sun that bears warmth. This week, this week it all turned, turned on the rising south wind and on the call of a cardinal on a cold morning and on the steady drip of snowmelt off the eaves. Turned, as all seasons turn, in their own time, at their own pace, but turned nonetheless for no season lasts forever and the cold, no matter how deep, cannot hold.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander. Call (715) 362-5800.