Thursday, March 20, 2014

Maybe, just maybe, winter isn't all that bad

As long as I can recall, I haven’t been winter’s biggest fan. As a kid on a working farm, when I carried water to animals through snow as tall as I was uphill both ways, winter felt like an endless and brutal season. When I was 10, I made a deal with Mother Nature; I was allowed to curse the cold, the snow and the ice, but I could never once complain about the summer heat.
I’ve stuck to my word for 32 years.
Frozen apples on a tree in winter.I’ve now had three decades to reconsider my relationship with winter, and this winter in particular seems like a great time to write it down. Spring, summer and harvest season (I don’t use the “f” word in my house) are a riot of planning, planting, picking, pickling and putting by food from my garden. Some people say that folks in the north cram nine months of activity into our three-month summer. That may be true, but if we had a nine-month growing season, I’d be working in my garden the whole time. So maybe winter is a mandatory rest period I wouldn’t otherwise take.
I like the change of pace winter brings. I also like some of the other changes that happen at our house. Our menu changes as we incorporate more frozen and canned food. I love nothing more than going into the basement in the middle of winter and bringing up garlic, onions, cans of vegetables or fruit jam. We play more games with friends. We watch more movies. We go to plays and all the fund-raising dinners we attend seem to be in the winter months. We don’t make time for these things in the summer, so I’m glad winter makes time for them for us.
Another thing winter does is it slows me down. I’m a “doer,” meaning sometimes I stick a shovel in the soil and start digging, occasionally a little sooner or in a different place than had I planned in advance. So winter’s forced “down time” from the garden helps me sit back and observe my surroundings. It gives me time to reflect on the summer past and the summer to come. It’s also when I get my graph paper and doodle garden beds, pore through seed and plant catalogs and read the magazines I didn’t read when they arrived last summer.
Finally, this winter’s “polar vortex” was particularly long and harsh, but this isn’t new. Every winter has a spell of below-zero weather. I have a name for that bitter cold. I call it “bug-killing weather,” and I like to think it’s the reason we don’t have cockroaches the size of my foot or malaria mosquitoes here in Wisconsin.
So on reflection, I’ll continue to curse the cold of winter (and relish the heat of summer) but maybe, just maybe, winter isn’t all that bad – and even has it’s purpose in my life.