Week by week now winter is slowly relinquishing its hold on our landscape. And amongst friends, neighbors, and colleagues, I’m hearing this huge sigh of relief, as though some malevolent deity had been making life miserable for the past four months. I’ve been hearing words like “bleak” and “gloomy,” which are not meteorological terms but reflections of a state of mind. If this describes you, permit me to offer a new perspective by being grateful for winter:
Grateful for dinner? Our breadbasket landscape was created by glaciation, the ultimate winter. And since then our soils have stopped leaching and have built up organic matter by being cold during the non-growing season for many thousands of years.
Grateful for health? The tropical regions of our planet are not protected by winter, which breaks the cycles of many human diseases and parasites. The main reason you do not encounter schistosomiasis, land leeches, dengue, gut worms, heartworms, most fungal infections, liver flukes, botfly larvae, etc., is winter.
Grateful for biodiversity? Winter is one of the great drivers of evolution, producing polar bears and penguins at the extremes, and lots of plants and animals adapted to a partial year of winter, including us.
Grateful for the great migrations? The cranes funneling through Nebraska, the warblers pouring north, the elk coming down from the mountains, the dense autumn hawk migrations, etc., are all driven by the ebb and flow of the seasons.
Grateful for natural beauty? When Nancy Seiberling was about 80 years old, she took a dogsled trip in northern Minnesota, camping in tents on the frozen lakes, and came back bubbling about how glorious her experience was. And even right here in a flimsy winter, we have had some crystalline mornings, tracking some unknown critter in the snow, all while knowing there are wonderful pots of soup simmering and there are long evenings available to write an old friend a serious letter.
Grateful for conservation opportunities? Winter is the time to stratify your seeds, take hardwood cuttings, and draw up new plans for spring planting. And it is the time to take advantage of the frozen ground to drive a tractor across a wetland, mulch usually inaccessible corners of the property, haul out firewood, tack up birdhouses, cut non-native brush, and do some serious labor without heat, mosquitoes, and ticks.
Grateful for magic? Caterpillars in their cocoons morph into butterflies, and like many magic winter transformations, are still a little difficult for science to explain.
So I’m wishing you a cheerful, satisfying, robust, meaningful, and delightful winter – every winter!