Brrr-r-r-r! It’s cold out there!
Temperatures have dropped substantially — literally overnight. Upper 40s one day, then rain that turned to snow, lots of wind, and by the following night we were bundled up and still shivering in the single digits.
It’s as if January suddenly decided to quit coddling us with unseasonably mild weather and elected to give us a proper dose of real winter.
I can’t say I’m thrilled about this abrupt turn of events, though being a pragmatic-minded realist at heart, I won’t claim to be shocked at the change. After all, we’re Buckeyes, we live in Ohio, a Great Lakes state, so you gotta expect winter hereabouts to look and feel like a Midwestern winter — snowy, blowy, icy, and cold.
Moreover, whenever we encounter forces that test our mettle, lines invariably get drawn and announced.
“Winter gives a fellow character,” my old friend Frank used to say.
Another pal, Georgia-born and decidedly Southern-minded, put it more folksily succinct: “Winter,” he said, “separates you polar bear types from us possums.”
It would definitely be an understatement to say he’s not a fan of our typical winters.
How do you view winter?
Severe or sensational? Delightful or depressing? Appealing or appalling.
Winter leaves few undecided. Either you like it or you don’t.
I enjoy winter. And for those of you on the other side of the opinion fence, no, you can rest assured I don’t have a masochistic bone in my body.
Of course, I don’t like falling on the ice, having to shovel walkways, or freezing my nether parts while scraping ice off the car’s windshield. Then again, I also don’t relish spring’s mud, summer’s sticky heat, or getting drenched by a cold autumn rain.
There are aspects of any season I could easily forego.
Nitpicking aside, winter is a season worth admiring, if for no other reason than the unique quality of its light.
There’s something about the light of a midwinter day on a landscape reduced to sere fundamentals that I love. Sometimes flat and milky, at other times charged with the dazzling scintillation of powdered diamonds.
Whether there’s snow cover on the ground or not, winter’s magical light can turn the most mundane landscape into a scene of wonder.
I often take long afternoon drives just to admire the countryside under this wondrous illumination. I’m especially fond of western-Ohio’s backroad borderlands.
There’s a sweep to this part of the country that I appreciate, a ragged emptiness, a sense of space and dimension, of singular temperament tinged with a hint of loneliness. Vistas are extended, uninterrupted.
Sometimes I spot a feeding whitetail, fat in its winter coat. Or a wedge of Canada geese heading homeward after a day’s browsing. Less frequently I’ll see a solitary coyote or fox.
But wildlife isn’t the main draw.
I visit these mostly rural parts because this is the period of long shadows and dramatic crosslight. A time of day when barns and silos are rimmed with gold and backlit woodlots appear as Oriental pen-and-ink sketches.
Dusk’s sky color comes early during winter — pastel shades, like smears of sherbet, banding and forming above the western horizon. Tangerine, lemon, opalescent green, and turquoise intermingle with streaks of lavender, cerulean and pink.
As the light begins to fade the colors darken, intensify — hues of gold, purple, crimson and cobalt. Colors that swirl and melt, pool into one another in blends that are achingly beautiful and impossible to describe.
If there’s snow or ice on the ground, the magic doubles. Earth and sky become one as the marbleized colors merge with their reflected image.
You can look across the vast reach of cut cornfields, lines of last fall’s stubble punctuating the snow, and see old furrows glowing like swathes of neon. It’s like driving into a dream.
Still, the sheer beauty of the light will probably not be enough to appease those of you who adamantly dislike winter. Especially not during January, the month which historically presents winter’s hardest face.
Okay, then consider this — along with strengthening cold and deepening snow comes a simultaneous lengthening of daylight. The solstice is now behind us, thus each new day adds a measure of light. Not much at first, certainly. But upwards of an hour by month’s end.
At first, most of this added light will be tacked onto the day’s end. Twilights will begin to linger noticeably, while the morning sun still seems as reluctant as the rest of us to roll out of our warm bed needlessly early.
Nevertheless, the pattern is set. The lengthening will increase and begin to pick up speed, gradually adding extra light to both ends of our days.
Remember, seasons take their cue from the length of daylight rather than the temperature. In the vernacular of the way we look at a tilting earth, the sun has begun its northward journey.
Viewed optimistically, this added daylight ought to be wonderfully encouraging, a message of hope when regarded as a sign of nature’s manifest certainty.
A commitment has been made; an evidentiary promise is already being fulfilled. Time will indeed bring about change, as it always does.
In due course the ice will melt, buds will swell and open, and fish will rise.
Another winter will thus pass into a green and glorious spring.
So regardless of whether your interest is aesthetic, prophetic, or purely practical, there’s a gratifying reason to find a measure of good in the here and now — to enjoy the beauty and pledge of winter’s wondrous light.
Reach Jim McGuire at [email protected].