By Todd Burras
Unlike most people I seem to talk to these days, I don’t mind winter. I have no objection to bundling up and shoveling snow or chipping ice. I’m not opposed to needing to put on a stocking cap or wool-blended socks before I leave the house. In fact, I rather like the snow and cold temperatures. I say the snowier and colder the better.
It certainly didn’t start out that way. As a child I was never one who looked forward to a day off from school so I could go outside and build a snow fort. I wasn’t exactly thrilled about recess during the winter months, either. King of the Hill wasn’t my idea of fun. Neither were snowball fights or trying to catch a frozen foot- ball that was impossible to grab and often resulted in somebody getting a tooth knocked out or a finger jammed.
My preference back then would have been to stay inside where it was comfortable and reorganize my baseball and football cards for the umpteenth time that week or to watch reruns of “Batman” and “Gilligan’s Island.” In short, I preferred 70s and the sun’s rays to the teens and snowflakes.
I trace the evolution of my fondness for warm weather to cold and my appreciation for Warm Skin rather than sunscreen to our late Siberian husky, Kiana. Huskies, by berth right, are lovers of cold weather. They’re built to pull sleds in the Arctic, and they have the physical and mental constitution to do it with sustained vigor and gusto. It doesn’t hurt that they have built-in insulated coats that can withstand temperatures of 40 to 50 degrees below zero.
But back to Kiana. In her waning years — she lived to be more than 16 years old — we would watch her struggle through uncomfortably warm springs and autumns and fully suffer through hot, muggy summers. For her, the dog days of summer stretched from late March to early December. But when winter would come around and the temperatures finally turned cold and the snow flew, it was like a switch was flipped and the aching and lethargic senior dog would be trans- formed into an energized and rambunctious happy teen.
In a yard full of snow she would run and frolic, plowing snow with her nose and biting at snowflakes. On a walk around the block she would dig her paws into the sidewalk and pull for all she was worth. It was an amazing transformation year after year, particularly in the latter stages of her life.
It was during some of those snowy walks on the coldest of winter nights with Kiana that I, too, began to experience a bit of a transformation of my own. While walks in the spring, summer and fall were always pleasant and enjoyable, winter walks I noticed were downright invigorating. I’d leave the house after a day of work feeling tired, run down and a bit depressed, only to return awake, energized and happy.
In short, I felt alive.
Those final snowy experiences with Kiana prepared me for the past two winters I spent at our cabin in northeastern Minnesota where annual snow totals are measured in feet and temperatures routinely settle below zero, plunging frequently into the negative 20s, 30s and even 40s.
It was often on the coldest and snowiest of winter days that I would find myself on a remote, windswept frozen lake or on a forested trail miles from the nearest road, skiing or snowshoeing, thinking about Kiana, enjoying the surrounding beauty, feeling invigorated and alive in a way that I’ve discovered is only possible in the depths of a cold snowy winter.
I once heard someone say the blessing of winter is that it strips away our constant need and lust for more things and reduces life to the essentials of heat, shelter and food. That may be true, and I’d throw human connections into the mix as well.
I’m happy to once again be back in central Iowa, but I do miss the peace and solitude and simplicity that accompany deep cold.
If it’s going to be winter, it just as well snow … and snow … and snow.
Todd Burras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.