Let me be honest about this. Winter is the best in the same way black and white TV is better than color, or finding the bones of a flying squirrel is better than seeing a live one.
However, over the years I have, out of desperation, discovered the many unique benefits of a northern winter. When I moved to Vermont in February of 1988 to marry my childhood sweetheart, I had been living in Maryland, where spring comes early and autumn lingers. After the first harsh winter took forever to dissolve into spring, I suspected, but then in chilly August knew, that the summer cycle ran short. I dreaded winter, even though as a child in Connecticut I had loved it.
I decided to make a list of its blessings because, as we all discover, surviving winter without crashing into serious grumps is a mind game. Here then is my list:
- No bugs. If your skin crawls, it needs moisturizer, not a slap.
- We can see and appreciate the bones of the landscape: her features hidden behind the summer crop of leaves. Tree species have unique shapes and growing patterns. Also, the terrain is now visible through them. In Vermont’s wrinkled geography, that means our view is no longer blocked by the trees along the valley road, and we can see far into the woods on either side. In winter we get to use our distance vision.
- Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s make early winter fizz and bubble. It isn’t until mid-January, after I recover from all the excitement that I wake up and realize winter has clenched us in a stone fist and is now my enemy.
- We start to get more light after January. A story: Last year my husband and I sat at the table with the sunrise-sunset time for January. We pored over it. It doesn’t matter that solstice occurs in the third week of December. We saw that for three weeks at the turn of the year the sunrise time just. barely. budged. Sunset was little better. We combed the data for a glimmer of hope (cough). The shortest days, 8 hours and 58 minutes, are from December 18-26. We make slow progress, gaining a minute on both ends here and there. But in February, if you can believe it, we get noticeable improvement.
- Snow covers the death of summer, its leaves, stalks, and fallen branches, with a clean white blanket. Always makes me think of my sins being covered by God’s forgiveness through Christ. Psalm 51 and Isaiah 1:18. Clean snow reflects light; snowy winters are not as dark.
- Winter comfort foods. Stew, soups, cornbread, gingerbread, baked apple, baked acorn squash and sausage, frozen kale from the garden (it’s sweeter after frost), Brussels sprouts dug from the snow, hot oatmeal for breakfast, waffles, muffins with pumpkin pie spice, mulled cider, hot chocolate. Not to mention all the foods specific to the holidays. I like to start a stew and leave it to simmer on a woodstove while we study and do chores.
- Fires in the woodstove. Not everyone has this blessing so I hesitate to bring it up. This is the only time of year we can come in chilled and draw close to a heat source to get relief. You get baked on one side as you stand as close as you dare, then rotate to toast all over. Lovely. My one stove with a window has the charm of live flame.
- Hospitality. Through the summer we need our Saturdays to get projects done, and privately grumble about Saturday invitations. In the winter everyone knows the warmth of fellowship at someone’s house is worth the drive in the dark and bitter cold. In winter we even do this midweek. We’re that hungry for new voices.
- Music. Desperation for something to beat back the cabin fever makes our amateur music skills suddenly seem like an asset and not a liability. We jam and don’t care how it sounds. (The windows are closed.) Folk songs and contradance music for us. Christmas songs in season.
- Big progress in school work. There is nothing else to do.
- Snow fall. I’ll grant you, this means different things to different people. When I am looking at falling snow from the comfort of a warm parlor, I am not fighting my way through it on a road trip, or working in the woods, or figuring out how I am going to fit plowing into my schedule.
- Books. With the garden put to bed and cabin life short on novelty, we find this is the best season for reading aloud.
There. Now I am looking forward to it! This morning I notice all the leaves have been pulled off our riverbank trees by yesterday’s strong winds. Stick season is here. And it is okay.
What do you find special about winter? Add to the list in the comments below.