“You lived in Ohio long?” asked the checkout gal at the farm and hardware store where I’d stopped to buy another 50-pound bag of sunflower seeds for my feathered freeloaders.
“All my life, “I said. “Why?”
She nodded in the direction of the store’s front door and the snow-covered parking lot beyond. “I’m from East Texas,” she told me, as we waited for the card reader to do its thing with my micro-chipped plastic. “Been here five years—but I still can’t get used to the way winter just comes marchin’ in practically overnight.”
I shrugged. “Hey, even us home-grown natives occasionally get surprised by the weather. Snow this time of year is always a possibility—though I don’t ever remember it being so cold in mid-December.”
“Winter came early, huh?” she said, handing me my receipt.
“Nope,” I said, grinning. “Not exactly.” I pointed at the rack of calendars near the register. “Check it out—according to what they claim, until the solstice passes next Tuesday, this is still officially autumn. Welcome to Ohio!”
Yeah, I know—that was a rather snarky parting shot. In retrospect, I should have been more tactful and sympathetic and given a naturalized Buckeye a break. After all, I’m forever preaching how nature and seasons don’t always fit nice and neat into the manmade boundaries declared by our calendars and almanacs.
My best excuse is that I was feeling a bit seasonally weary. Tired of traffic and crowds and shopping, frustrated by a growing to-do list and a decreasing timeframe in which to accomplish everything. A familiar reaction wherein all the holiday hoopla was increasingly starting to feel more like an ordeal than a celebration.
Not helping my overall mood was what I feared could be the first intimations of a developing sore throat. This was definitely not the time to get sick! And I was fervently hoping the scratchiness might simply be a result of all the dry, cold air I’d lately been breathing and too much semi-enthusiastic carol singing as I motored from point A to point B on my appointed rounds.
As usual, I’d began my day with a just-after-dawn expedition to the woodpile. Snow from the day before covered the ground and squeaked underfoot. A distinctive sound. Snow doesn’t make that sharp creaky noise unless it’s cold—really, seriously cold. Single-digit, close-to-zero cold!
I hadn’t checked the thermometer I’ve mounted on the big pine tree just beyond the kitchen window before coming out. But just hearing that tell-tale squeak made me shiver—and I shivered even more as I uncovered the rack of split ash and quickly loaded the canvas carrier bag.
A handful of chickadees flew down from the cedars along the hillside to keep me company. After landing in the bare branches of a nearby walnut, they began executing their usual gravity-defying antics while taking turns sounding their cheerful namesake call.
Overnight, the river had iced up almost all the way across along the entire hundred-yard length of the slow stretch above the house. During the decade I’ve lived here, it’s never frozen over so quick. More proof of the unusual nature of this deep and sudden cold.
The big pool directly in front of the cottage, with its swirling currents, was rimmed with a wide ice-sheath, while the open center depths were full of slush and colored a pale green, rather like a giant margarita. I usually don’t see that before mid-January at the earliest!
Nature, I thought, as I headed back inside for hot coffee and an up-close-and-personal dose of the woodstove’s radiant heat, makes a season “official.” Not us! We have no control over such matters.
Truth is defined by facts, the reality of indisputable proof. If it looks like winter and feels like winter—it is winter! Plain and simple, no matter what our fancy publications and snazzy schedules dictate, and regardless of the timeframe we expect a given season to follow.
Anyone who cares to question whether or not this is true—that winter is indeed here, neither early nor late, but right on time for this particular year—needs to stand outside awhile, where it genuinely counts and can be experienced, and argue the point with the chickadees.
Me…I’m convinced already!
Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at email@example.com