Winter: An Old Friend Returned

As the heart of winter approaches, it’s tempting to withdraw from the outdoor world and wait till spring. But Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Tom Springer thinks the forgotten benefits of winter far outweigh the hardships:


As the heart of winter approaches, it’s tempting to withdraw from the outdoor world and wait till
spring. But as Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Tom Springer thinks, the forgotten
benefits of winter far outweigh the hardships.

Outside my window there’s an old sugar maple, grey and bare against the late autumn sky. I’ve
raked up most of its leaves and spread them as mulch on my vegetable garden. It seems like the
tree and me have nothing better to do than wait for spring.

But for a tree, the real work of winter has just begun. To prepare for frigid weather, trees undergo
a process known as hardening off. Their sap withdraws from the twigs and branches and returns
to the roots. And the tree’s roots will continue to grow until the ground freezes solid.

When it comes to surviving winter, I think trees have the right idea. It’s in their nature to slow
down and focus on interior growth. Unfortunately, most of us don’t do that. Instead of adapting to
winter, we try to escape it. We dash from our heated house into a semi-heated garage. We drive in
heated cars – which often have heated seats and even heated steering wheels – and we work in a
heated … Well, you get the idea.

But what would happen if we tried harder to accept winter on its own terms? Might we be happier
and healthier?

Researchers say that people can get surprisingly acclimatized to winter weather. As our bodies
get accustomed to cold, we shiver less and our skin retains more heat. In Australia, scientists have
studied aborigines who sleep outside naked in cold weather. They don’t get hypothermia. In
Japan, shellfish divers have been known to spend hours in the ice-cold ocean, wearing nothing
more than a cotton swimsuit.

Spending more time outside in winter can even make you happier. That’s good news for the 10
million Americans who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is a form of depression
that’s triggered by the short winter days. Some people take anti-depressants to fight SAD. Yet
researchers find that many people can overcome it without using pills. They just need to get
outdoors and absorb some authentic daylight.

Do you suppose Mother Nature is trying to tell us something? For 50,000 years of human
history, winter was a time of rest and rejuvenation woven between the cycle of seasons. And I
doubt that 75 years of electric indoor heat has changed that. For instance, our bodies still crave
good food in winter – not just fudge and party mix, but homemade soup or a juicy pot roast. And
there’s still something about the solemn purity of winter that calls us to focus inward. To boost
the spirits, there’s nothing like a quiet walk on a snowy Sunday afternoon. It’s also the best time
to read the uplifting books that have languished on the nightstand since summer.

This is, without question, the most trying of seasons. It gets depressingly dark by 6 o’clock, and
the wind howls at the door like a hungry wolf. But the frozen solitude of winter is not a thing to
be feared. Winter is simply an old friend returned, who waits in unspoken silence to wish us well.

Tom Springer is a free lance writer from Three Rivers, Michigan.