Many winters have come and gone since those days when I was a kid growing up on a farm. My memories of winter are forever embedded in my mind. However the meaning of what I remember has only begun to come into focus in recent years. The winter months in the North can be cold, cruel months, especially January and February. But they can also be exhilarating and beautiful.
Winter taught me the value of patience. When I was a kid snowstorms regularly plugged roads with snowdrifts and stopped all travel by our farm — sometimes for several days. There was nothing we could do about it except to wait for the snowplow, which eventually came.
Winter meant slowing down. On the farm, spring, summer and fall were near nonstop activity — all in preparation for winter. By slowing down in winter, we did what much of nature does. Trees go dormant, many creatures hibernate, and everything rests in preparation for the busy seasons to follow.
Winter taught me the importance of neighbors and community. Though we may have not lived physically close to our neighbors, we knew them, enjoyed them and often depended on them for their help. We were part of a community in the best sense of the word. Besides depending on neighbors for their assistance with such winter tasks of butchering or sawing wood, we also got together for neighborhood card parties, and on occasion for dances, which we sometimes held in homes and more often at the country school. We celebrated weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. We welcomed the occasional newcomer to the community with a potluck house warming party. Women in the community got together for quilting bees, where they met at a farm home and together made beautiful quilts.
The importance of family came into sharp focus during winter. On snowy days, beyond attending the country school, we did not venture from home. Sometimes, when a blizzard blew in, we might not travel to town for ten days or even two weeks. During these snowstorms, doing chores was more difficult as paths had to be cleared from building to building, and heavy winter wear made moving and work a bit harder to do. But these were also times for our family to have fun together — playing games, enjoying the snow, and eating special meals.
Winter taught me the power of nature. Winter reminded me, it continues to do so today, that we human beings are not in charge, even though sometimes we are deluded into thinking so. A winter blizzard can be a very humbling event, reminding us who or what really holds the reins of power.
It is not merely the length of winter that creates a group of people I call “Northerners,” it is the mysterious and even mythical characteristics of winter that make the difference. Winter is more than cold and snow, frozen water pipes, slippery roads, and dark and dreary days. For me, winter is:
A silent season, when nature rests — the trees and the grasses,
the wildflowers and the birds, the animals and the pond creatures.
Winter is a time for endings and a time for beginnings.
A time to regroup and a time to reconsider.
A time to reflect and a time to revise.
A time to evaluate and a time to plan for the morrow.
Winter is a season of great beauty,
of blacks and whites and grays
and a sprinkling of green from the pines,
the firs and the spruces that dot the northern regions.
Winter is a season of subtle shapes with few sharp edges
as snow blankets the land with a soft and curving cover.
Winter is a season of subtle sounds;
the almost imperceptible sound of snowflakes falling,
the rustling of bare tree branches caressed by a winter breeze,
the quiet dripping of melt water from a farm house roof.
Winter is a time to listen for the silence,
when the cold tightens its grip,
turning breath into clouds and thickening the ice on the lakes,
When snow cover muffles all sound.
Winter is like a great river,
always the same but constantly changing;
each winter resembling the one previous,
yet each unique and special and like no other.
Winter is: A season that demands respect;
insists on it.
It is a season that refuses to be ignored.
Winter is a season that never leaves us. It is forever a part of who we are.