As I lay crumpled at the end of my driveway one morning a few days ago, I had a chance to consider the majesty of winter.
It was winter itself, after all, that had struck me down. And until the pain from the leg twisted under me ebbed enough that I could crawl off the icy patch where I’d slipped, there really wasn’t much else to do.
Spring, summer and fall get great press. They’re the seasons that stir the senses with big shows — wildlife showing off for mates, flowers turning to fruit, woods brightening to red and gold.
Because we usually have the good sense to ride out the worst of winter in rooms too warm for it to touch us, it’s easy to forget that this season, too, shows up with its own chest full of sensations. And not just the shooting pain of a leg twisted on ice.
Luckily, there’s a stretch of years when kids run from a surprising amount of the good sense they see adults modeling, leaving them free to grapple with things the rest of us spend a lot of energy protecting ourselves from. Sometimes they’ll let you follow, and winter’s a good time to see where they go.
Within reason, of course.
Seeing the bare footprints my sons left in the snow after I sent them outside for quick chores a couple weeks ago, for instance, made me sure that I’m always going to have a good pair of boots on hand.
I was happy, though, that the older boy dragged me to a campout with his scout troop in freezing temperatures and fierce winds in the middle of January. That happiness didn’t get a chance to bloom until after the terror of driving through a blizzard on a dark two-lane highway had passed, but it did eventually come.
The feeling showed up as soon as we got a big campfire burning just before sunset on our second night out.
The kids stayed far from the warmth, all of them off playing football or hide-and-seek or cards, because finding a seat at the fire on a frozen night is, apparently, an example of that good sense they like to run from.
But we old folks who’d driven them to their campout spent the evening warmed by friendship as much as fire, wrapped in smoke and stories.
And we felt what the ancients must have when they dreamed up the two-faced god Janus who gave the month its name, our faces hot from the glowing flames while our dark backs froze. It’s a gift that only winter brings.
I wasn’t expecting anything so delicious when the little one asked me to go for a walk on one of the coldest mornings we’ve seen here this century. I was still limping badly from slipping on the ice the day before, but he wanted to find out what happens to his neighborhood when it’s four degrees below zero, and his curiosity was infectious.
We had to wrap ourselves heavily enough that the cold couldn’t touch us, I told him.
It turned out there wasn’t much to see, everyone but us being shut up in warm homes or huddled in nests and burrows out of sight.
But winter, we found out, doesn’t rely only on touch or spectacle when it wants to put on its own big show.
My son and I had reached the lake at the far end of our walk when we thought we heard the local pair of horned owls calling to each other. But they sounded different this morning, hooting just once in each call and with a long, eerie reverberation they’d never had before.
Then we noticed we couldn’t pinpoint the sound. It was coming from every direction.
We weren’t hearing owls, we finally realized. We were hearing the lake. Something about the severe morning had turned the usual bang and pop of a freezing lake into a magical, haunting winter song.
We pulled down our hoods and took off our hats to listen for a while, thrilled and awed.
Then we saw our eyelashes were sparkling with tiny beads of ice and we knew it was time to be on our way, leaving the lake to sing to itself, or to anyone else who might step from warmth into deep cold to hear the winter’s song.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.