IN DEFENSE OF WINTER
Snow came down all night,
And from my morning window,
All the world had changed.
Whether by chance or by Providence, the Earth’s axis tilts 23.5 degrees. It is this phenomenon that gives us our seasons. When the Earth’s axis points directly toward the sun, that hemisphere experiences the summer solstice, the center point of summer. Conversely, when the axis points away from the sun, that hemisphere experiences the winter solstice, the point at which the direct rays of the sun reach their lowest ebb. The perigees of the interim orbital segments are known as the vernal equinox, or “spring,” and the autumnal equinox, or “fall” (the word “equinox” means equal day and night).
Ecclesiastes tells us, To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
Winter is cold, dark and ugly and will be here again before you know it. A lot of people dread the advent as harsh and unforgiving. You seldom hear anyone praising winter; yet winter may be our most important season. I admit that along about March, I’m sick to death of winter. One year we had a heavy, wet snow the first week of March. Next day it froze solid. All the ruts and footprints made it hard to walk and stayed around the whole month.
Winter does have certain magic qualities in the beginning. Who is unmoved by the sight of falling snow at Christmas time, particularly if there are little ones in the family for whom this is a newfound experience?
There are other things to enjoy about winter – particularly for the young. Children make snowmen and snow angels, go sledding, have snowball fights until hunger, cold or exhaustion beckon them home. Old people have long before surrendered winter to others still young enough to ski and ice skate then repair to hot buttered rums before an open fireplace where they will often find old people as well enjoying the fire and rum sufficient to ease the passing of youth.
Winter sometimes steals upon us quietly, and you notice one day the world has changed. All the leaves are down and an overriding barren brownness covers the land. A sharp crispness in the air foretells that the front edge of winter has arrived and has cast everything in its own peculiar light and character. There are other times when winter comes roaring in hell-bent on angry clouds of steel wool racing across the sky, bearing frigid temperatures and penetrating winds direct from the North Pole. Snow and ice paralyze all movement and make clear that winter means to have its way.
Winter is most importantly a time of rest, a time when the farmer stores the harvest and retires from the field, when plants of every kind close down and rest until spring. A tiny seal closes the wound where each leaf falls away. Trees send sap deep into to the earth. In late winter, the Great Horned Owl, one of the first harbingers of spring, announces the time to nest. Tiny buds appear, the sarvisberry blooms and stream ice gives way to a rush of translucent blue-green water.
Winter bestows a gift essential to the health and growth of all living things: a time of repose, a time of restoration, a time to rest and await the renewal of the life-giving sun.