TCS Daily

The Joys of Winter

By John Baden - February 5, 2008 12:00 AM

This January I've had the luxury of previewing retirement. It was not, however, what I hoped for, no skiing or even driving off our place. Being allergic to TV, I spent time reading, writing, and listening to more NPR than ever before.

This experience broadened my perspective on winter. Consider this introduction to an "All Things Considered" commentary on January 23, 2008.

"Tired of this year's weird winter weather...Laura Lorson has coined a phrase for this dreary time of year: 'JanuFeb.' She thinks it captures the strange, worn-out feeling these months can bring. ... This winter has been hard across much of the nation. ... Even the most die hard fans of the season are getting a bit worn out."

Ms. Lorson in her own words: "Here we are in deepest darkest JanuFeb, that time of the year when everything looks crummy and you're sick of snow. ... I don't want to turn on the television...because then I'll just see someone else's beautiful home or beautiful car.... [A]bandon hope all who enter here."

Listening to this two minute, twenty-eight second lament of life prompted a
question: why, given a week of subzero weather, are my Montana friends and I so happy?

First, we're self selected to relish winter and we haven't had a real one for several years. The novelty and challenge of sub-zero but sunny weather is great fun. I've discovered a new pleasure, sitting on our deck in our hot tub when it's minus 15 degrees. With steam rising around me, the Gallatin Range to the south offers an enchanted vision.

Most mornings Ramona and I walk a few miles, watching horses and deer on our place and occasionally seeing the Cottonwood elk herd outlined on a nearby ridge. At our Chronicle box, most pickup drivers wave and some stop to talk, right in the road. We see snow pack growing in the mountains, a harbinger of good summer water.

Each year technology improves and cold is ever less burdensome. Our homes, vehicles, and clothing protect us from cold's hardships‹and today few are condemned to working outside. Plowing snow is far easier now than a few decades ago.

If there's too much snow for my four-wheeler to push, I'm in a nicely heated and sound insulated tractor listening to Morning Edition on NPR. Forty years ago I'd have been in an open crawler, a logging cat, freezing my buns with hands nearly too cold to operate the steering levers. While I enjoyed those times, winter life is unambiguously better, even (or perhaps especially) for an old guy.

Further, subzero weather has great medical, biological, and social benefits.
It kills and drives out pathogens and parasites. Spruce Budworm and Pine Bark Beetle may die. Among average folks, and especially those doing well in wealthy societies, subzero weather promotes public health.

Extreme cold exerts a strong selective force. The imprudent and ill prepared are likely to suffer from cold. These are not folks who should live here‹and the recent cold imposes a reality check that discourages their staying.

Global warming has given some a false sense of security. While it shifted Montana's temperature profile curve five to ten degrees to the right, it did not erase the left hand tail. In late January we lived there and we'll no doubt be there again. It's a warning to stay prepared.

Summer really is my favorite time and subzero winter weeks make it even more enjoyable. Winter is the time to speculate and look forward to new irrigation systems, bike trips with friends, and FREE's summer conferences with judges and religious leaders. I enjoy winter's planning to move dirt, logs, and rock to improve our fish habitat and fishing access for the handicapped.

We are privileged to live in a wonderful place and it's a treat to share it with appreciative others. Winter is an excellent time to plan how.


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