Wednesday, January 25, 2012

HARD, COLD TRUTHS - Unlocking Winter's Wonders Part One

If it seems like most of the precious little discoveries I describe here have occurred during the spring, summer and fall, there’s a good reason for that: I live in Minnesota. Not much grows here from October through March. And those critters that do venture outside do so quickly.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to discover in winter. Still, more than any other season, this harsh time of year demands an extra measure of our attention—our investment of some time, effort, discomfort and perhaps a little faith—before rewarding us with wonder.

Here's the first of a two-part mini-series on those hard-won wonders of winter.

                                               *          *          *
     Winters here in Minnesota are to those 
     in warmer places as oatmeal is to a rich,  
     spicy paella.

Esthetically, it might seem that winters here in Minnesota are to those in warmer places as oatmeal is to a rich, spicy paella. For someone like me who draws nourishment from color, that can prove a pretty bland diet.

One would think, back when all our buildings were designed, there must have been shortages of materials—even paint—in any colors but shades of white, brown and gray. Not only that, but Minnesotans seem to fear the slightest tinge of color in their clothing. Alas, at least for many of Western European descent, even our skin dares no color!


Compound this dreary palette with our low winter sun’s feeble output and daylight that’s pretty much snuffed by 4:30, and it's no wonder, come February, so many of us suffer from the malaise we call “cabin fever.”

To be fair, if you really put your mind to it, there is, indeed, color to be found in a Minnesota winter. But you have to look for it. Those of us who do catch it in splashes of vivid nylon spilling down a ski slope. It rises in the roaring flamboyance of a hot air balloon.

      It might wrap you in a bright, cozy throw
      or beguile you with the snapping yellow  
      and orange dance of a fire.


Indoors, color might wrap you in a bright, cozy throw or beguile you with the snapping yellow-orange dance of a fire. It flushes in a ruddy cheek, a warm smile and the resilient spirits of the folks you get to know so well when you’re housebound together for a while.

And, for those of us unsatisfied with man-made color, even Nature teases us with her reluctant hues. Unlike those of summer that nearly accost you, these shades tend to lay low, obscure to all but the most determined eye.


       It's the arresting, pure red checkmark of 
       a cardinal alighting for just an instant.

They’re the raw umber and burnt sienna cloaks the oak trees refused to give up last autumn; the golden, burgundy, crimson, even chartreuse stems of dogwood and other shrubs; the arresting, pure red checkmark of a cardinal alighting for just an instant.


Then there's the snow. Our eyes do a funny thing with color. We tend to perceive it only in comparison with its surroundings. Since there's seldom anything more "white" in our view than fresh snow, we tend to think of it as all white, pure white. But if you look carefully you see that white is relative. There is always color. I've seen snow tinted every imaginable color: pinks, blues, golds, even greens.


It’s the pigment we bring to the mix...that ultimately determines the color we see.

The color of winter is, at its best, a collaboration. Nature does her part, albeit begrudgingly. The rest is up to us. After all, it’s the pigment we bring to the mix—in our openness, our creativity, our zest for life, our expectation of wonder—that ultimately determines the color we see.

Yes, you may have to look a little harder, perhaps open your heart and soul a bit further, but, as with anything in short supply, you learn to appreciate winter’s little wonders all the more for their scarcity.

The alternative? Well, believe me, it can be an awfully long time between October and March.



Debi said...

The grass is always greener ... how we long for some time to explore in detail the splendor of a white winter, something we do not have here in Southern California. But we are equally challenged as city dwellers to find the beauty & magic in nature that DOES exist amidst all that concrete. You must have a willingness of spirit to see the beauty around you no matter where you might be.

Jeffrey Willius said...

You're so right, Debi -- Like so many things in life, we see in Nature pretty much what we expect to see. What you do so well with kids is partly to teach them about that "willingness of spirit." I often use the term "seeing generously" to suggest that we must invest something of ourselves in the process.

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