Looking for Light in Winter’s Darkness

Every new year always starts out dark, at least in these parts.

You have to live south of the equator to have summer in January. This year and the last two have had the additional shadow of Covid, making it seem even darker. If it were a movie, we might call 2022 “Covid Year III, Rise of the Omicron.” Roman numerals always make titles seem more impressive, don’t you think?

So we hang up our new calendars and recycle the old ones. If you have the Weather Guide calendar you can see that we just entered the tunnel of winter and are looking ahead for any sign of lengthening light. We should really start noticing it by February. So now we just make the best of things.

For those of us too old to go sliding, skating or skiing, we’ll have to be content with indoor activities. I sold my ski equipment last fall. My wobbly knee was a constant reminder that I was just one fall from instantly meeting my insurance deductible. Or my maker.

Back in the day my folks spent many cold winter nights reading. They disliked having to get up to switch between three snowy channels on the old black and white TV. Unless it was Lawrence Welke. They would listen to that show if the screen looked like a blizzard. They had tired of listening to their slim selection of mostly Christmas record albums they bought from the $.99 barrel.

While they were content with reading, we kids were decidedly not. Winter is easier for kids. We had our sleds ready since September and went sliding on whatever snow we had. But as much as we played outside in the snow, we could only play until our hands got cold. It’s always the hands. The yarn mittens Mom carefully knitted for us were so absorbent that our hands eventually got wet and we’d have to go inside.

So we played in the house. But the toys we got for Christmas were often already boring or broken. Instead, we built forts out of couch cushions, the cardboard boxes our toys came in and blankets. We played Monopoly and Authors. We played hide and seek until Dad yelled at us to stop jumping around or the fuel oil furnace would go out. We were never sure that was true but couldn’t disprove it. So we then pulled out the wooden marble run that was so loud you couldn’t have a conversation.

Winter is the season that makes us wonder why we tell everyone we love living here. We say its because of the four real seasons. There’s some truth to that but most of us wish summer was longer, winter was shorter and spring and fall were actually identifiable seasons.

More recently, though, it seems like our winters are changing. By Thanksgiving we almost always had snow that stayed for winter’s duration. Now we seem to get dumped on and then it quickly melts. It’s tough to go sliding or play outside at all with a wet layer on top of frozen ground. Or like the recent rain that freezes on top of snow. It’s too slippery to even walk back up the hill. And, of course, some of the season’s best snow for outdoor fun comes just before it all melts for good.

We lose the right to complain if our winter suffering is blunted. We need numerous significant snowfalls and at least a week with highs below zero and lows at -20 or lower. Two weeks would be better. You know it’s cold when the furnace doesn’t stop long enough for you to check the filter. Sadly, climate change could diminish the boldness of Minnesota pro sports team names like Vikings, Timberwolves, Lynx and Wild.

We drive less in the winter and now with Covid, we may drive even less. But we’re still supposed to load our cars up with survival food, blankets, extra gloves and hats, shovel and cat litter for traction when stuck. Have you ever put on gloves and a hat that have been in the trunk of your car when it’s below zero? If you were already cold, you will now be colder.

Winter is also the time of year when you are reminded of the drafts coming from around the doors and windows. You were going to seal them up last summer, remember? Oh, yeah. You were going to get right to it as soon as it warmed up. So you add that to your summer project list which includes about two summer’s worth of ideas you found in seed and landscaping catalogs.

If you see a friend at the grocery store you might talk about getting together sometime next summer, forgetting that there aren’t enough warm weather weeks to squeeze it in between vacation and family obligations. 

You could travel south for the winter, as many do, and move into one of the many RV neighborhoods inhabited by retired Scandinavians from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas.

Or you could read another book about a warm weather adventure while washing down the last of the Christmas cookies with some hot cocoa.

And watch for lengthening daylight.

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