These are the days when the snowbirds come back to Michigan from Florida, and voice their disappointment that winter has outlasted their vacation. As a light snow drifts down, powdering bare patches of ground and outlining tree branches in that particularly attractive, lacy way, I rise to winter’s defense.
First, winter is informative. The structure of trees, the depth of woodlots, the secret nests where birds and squirrels made their summer lives, are revealed both by the absence of leaves and by the snow echoing and outlining them. Shrubs that were a green curtain in summer become transparent, revealing burrows and pathways previously unsuspected. The snow clearly displays the tracks of animals you may never have seen, but which you now know have laid claim to your garden. The clarity of winter explains many things that were mysterious the rest of the year.
Second, it is restorative. There are plants, peonies for example, that do not flourish in warm climates because they need winter to rid them of parasites and buck them up for another round. For humans, it’s an opportunity to sit quietly and think about what to do next, to reassess last year’s efforts, successes and failures, and where things might be improved. This is specifically true of the garden, but not limited to it. Our entire culture recognized this long ago when we located our New Year in winter, in spite of so many other cultures placing it in spring. Spring is a new beginning, yes, but new beginnings go better if some planning comes first.
Third, to wish the winter was over is to wish away a quarter of your life. The older I get the less interested I am in speeding up the passage of time.
Fourth, it is beautiful. Can anyone be looking at the winter-wonderland effect of a snowfall when they say winter is gloomy? Michiganders will see high, bloomy, rolling clouds and say the sky is grey, but if you’ve never lived with the “June Gloom” of the west coast’s seasonal low fog, you do not know what grey is. Yes, it’s cold outside, but you need sunglasses when you walk out in it.
The equinox is still a week away, so winter is entitled to hold the field. I see the hellebores are already shaking out their flowerbuds and the daffodils are nosing up, so those who are impatient for spring can take comfort. Meanwhile, I am going to sit here by the window with my cocoa, enjoying the season at hand.