Tag Archives: winter

March Snow

Let me write about snow before it melts away with the coming of spring.

Sled on a snowy day, Huntley Illinois

Sled on a snowy day in Huntley, Illinois

I like snow!  I’m not a golfer but I spent a good part of of my childhood at the Northfield Golf Club because it had the nearest sledding hill.  My friend, Amy, and I would drag our sleds or snow saucers over to the golf course hill, just east of Prairie Street in Northfield, Minnesota.  Covered in boots, snowpants, parkas, mittens, and ski masks, we immediately hit the slope as if it was our job to smooth the entire hill into a cohesive, slippery mass.  We carefully walked up the same part of the hill each time so as to preserve the best runs.  Other children came and went, but we were the most devoted sledders, often staying till after dark.

The owners of the golf course put up with us, even when we tromped into the club house to use the restroom.  I remember coming out of a stall with my ski mask on as a startled woman said, “Oh, honey, the little boy’s room is across the hall.”  I must have looked more like an ice-encrusted abominable snowman than a little girl!

Even as an adult, I am always on the lookout for a good hill.  When our children were little, we had a slope behind our house that we enjoyed in winter.  It was nothing, though, compared to what one Minnesota family did in their backyard!  They engineered their own snow slide as if it was a winter water park.  I understand why people in D.C. recently defied the ban on sledding on Capitol Hill.  It’s a hill and it has snow.  What else is it for?

Some of us like the cold, white stuff we get for a few months of the year.  Here’s Robert Frost’s appreciation of snowflakes raining on his head:


The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

Has given me heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

Winter walk

Winter walk

Yes, the fresh, sparkly snow can shine through our shadows of glumness.  When I start dwelling on the blooper reel of my life, ruing, to use Frost’s word, all my dumb mistakes, I need to reboot.  Snow does that.  It offers a clean slate and a shot at redemption, as Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) wrote in these stanzas of her poem, March Snow:

When winter dies, low at the sweet spring’s feet

Let him be mantled in a clean, white sheet.

Let the old life be covered by the new:

The old past life so full of sad mistakes,

Let it be wholly hidden from the view

By deeds as white and silent as snow-flakes.

Ere this earth life melts in the eternal Spring

Let the white mantle of repentance fling

Soft drapery about it, fold on fold,

Even as the new snow covers up the old.

The end of winter used to be considered the start of the new year in some cultures.  Hibernation is over.  New life begins!  It makes sense.  As for me, until the snow is all gone, I’m going to get out there and enjoy it.

Good skiing weather

Good skiing weather

Ducks in Mid-Winter

A guy working on our roof said, “I see a hundred ducks down there.”  He is a hunter of ducks.

So are prowling coyote and the peregrine falcon, aka duck hawk, looking over the pond from a perch in the oak tree.  I’ve seen feathery remains under that tree. No wonder the ducks are so skittish.

As I approach them this morning, the sun is not yet up.  Their patch of water remains open though it is twelve below zero.  The marsh grass is coated with frost and I am out here with bare hands on my camera, trying to record the winter white.  As usual, the black ducks and mallards sense the presence of me and my dog and rise into the air en masse.

Some birds angle gradually out of the water.  But these are dabbler ducks.  Nature artist Roger Tory Peterson noted, “When they fly they do not skitter or patter like heavily laden seaplanes taking off, the way diving ducks do, but spring straight into the air, then level off.”  To see more pictures of ducks and hear their quacks, click http://artisanpeace.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/wings-of-winter/.

Someone from a warmer state asked if all the animals here die in the winter.  This year, it seems like a fair question!  It has been exceptionally cold in Illinois and the entire Midwest.  How do the ducks survive?  Whether in Central Park or our prairie wetlands, they can stay for the winter as long as they have open water and access to water plants for food.

For starters, they wear the same insulation I have in my coat: feathers.  Down can keep them warm to temperatures well below zero.  With their fat reserves and high metabolism, they can maintain an average body temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit.  Like us, they can shiver if they must.

Their scaly feet have specialized circulation that keeps them from freezing.  Ducks are also smart enough to take advantage of solar energy, turning their broadest surface–their backs–toward the sun.  Also, with their hair-trigger reaction to movement, they definitely get enough exercise to keep themselves warm!

We watch the birds arc to the east and then, noticing that the dog is lifting a paw in discomfort from the cold, we head for home.  Judging from the groundhog’s reaction yesterday, we have more than enough time in the weeks ahead to learn about winter survival.

Ducks at dawn

Ducks at dawn

Skiing in Beauty

Cross-country skiing in Marquette County

Cross-country skiing in Marquette County

It was a good day to be out skiing.  Imagine yourself so small you could play on a cottonball.  That’s what the snow was like in central Wisconsin last weekend.  Not the best conditions for speed-gliding, but perfect for playing in a cushy wonderland of fluff.

Access to the trail near our cabin was through the snow-draped limbs of White Pines–their needles soft, too, as I brushed by them and entered their domain.  A hush lay all around me.  All I had to do was slide along on my skis and look around.  I saw tracks of deer and rabbits.  The sky was blue and frost sparkled and everything was fresh.  With every little breeze, snow from the branches above sifted down on me and I was refreshed.

The magic of the winter woods put me in mind of the Navajo prayer, asking “in harmony may I walk”:

With beauty before me may I walk.

With beauty behind me may I walk.

With beauty below me may I walk.

With beauty above me may I walk.

With beauty all around me may I walk.

I am restored in beauty.

The Middle of Somewhere

When people find out that my husband and I plan to move to the middle of rural Wisconsin, we get a lot of questions.  Right now we live in Evanston, population 74,486, which is right next to Chicago with a population over two million.

Where are we going?  To Wautoma, population 2100.  That is a big change.  And we won’t be living in town, such as it is, but in the woods by a lake.  That description of our location may be sufficient explanation of our move for some people.  But many of our friends and family want to know how we will adjust to the lack of cultural institutions, ethnic diversity, restaurants, health food stores, and other amenities.  Some worry about us enduring long, cold winters.

I have the same questions and they led me to read books about people who survived such a move.  One memoir I’ve read so far is We Took to the Woods by Louise Rich, first published in 1942 but still quite useful.  I will summarize a couple points of reassurance from her book here.

Louise was raised in a Massachusetts town and then moved to the deep woods of Maine when she married her husband, Ralph.  They were 20 miles from the nearest store, which is a long way, especially in the winter when they pulled their groceries home on a sled.  When hunters and fishermen visited their river and woods, they tended to ask the same questions, so Louise started each chapter with a typical question that she heard from visitors.

The chapter titled “Don’t You Get Awfully Out of Touch?” takes pains to explain “that we aren’t out of touch with anybody that we want to stay in touch with.  After all, the U.S. Mail still operates.”  She doesn’t mention in this chapter that if they want their mail in the winter, they have to snowshoe quite a ways to get it!  We actually have roads going by our Wisconsin home, passable–most days–even in the winter, and mail delivery to the end of our driveway.  Plus, we’ll even have internet up there to help us stay in touch.

I sat up and took notice when Louise addressed the seasons.  “What people really mean when they ask us if we live here the year ’round is ‘But good Lord!  Certainly you don’t stay in here during the winter?  You must be crazy!'”  Louise admitted, “I would have thought so myself before I tried it.”  I take great comfort in the fact that she tried it and she liked it.  She found there was a lot to like in the snowy woods of Maine.

She herself thought winters would be miserable.  “It’s the time you expected to drag intolerably, and once in a while you stop and wonder when the drag is going to begin.  Next week, you warn yourself, after we’ve finished doing this job on hand, we’d better be prepared for a siege of boredom.  But somehow next week never comes.”  And pretty soon the ice broke up and the loons came back…

Louise Rich didn’t miss urban life and culture very often, because she had plenty to do in her own neck of the woods, what with writing, raising children, and endless chores like cooking on the wood stove.  As she put it, “All we have are sun and wind and rain, and space in which to move and breathe.  All we have are the forests, and the calm expanses of the lakes, and time to call our own.”

By some measures, our cabin is in the middle of nowhere.  But when I’m up there, there’s nowhere I’d rather be.  But check with me come February.

It all depends where you want to be.