In Defense of Winter

I love to praise Winter weather. I understand the challenges it can pose, but despite those challenges, I find much to enjoy about it. And so I choose to write in defense of Winter.

I think that one can appreciate life during winter, particularly if one takes a pro-active attitude toward identifying what one can enjoy. I hope these remarks don’t come off as flippant – I understand and respect the frustration people have with some aspects of winter. (It poses challenges for me, too.) But I want to encourage all of us to have a better time during these months; to enjoy what life in this world has to offer!

I have been working on this post for some time. Given how often I find myself defending Winter when others criticize it, I wanted to write a piece which focused on responding, in one place, to the criticisms I hear most often.

Yes, I understand that winter has certain challenges, and things that other seasons have can be difficult to find during Winter. So in this post, I will respond to some common complaints I hear about Winter.

 

I like Fall or Spring better

Fair enough. I respect the different preferences.

That said, if you live in Wisconsin, you live in a place where we have a variety of seasons. I try to identify what I can enjoy during each season, rather than being bummed because it is not my favorite season. We can enjoy what each has to offer, in turn – and that diversity of seasons is part of what our area has to offer.

Winter brings us snow. It includes the holiday celebrations for Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day. Having grown up in Milwaukee, part of the charm of each of those holidays for me is linked with the Winter weather during which it occurs.

So much of what we can enjoy of life – including an ability to observe the outdoors – is available during Winter.

 

Too dark

There are some difficulties caused by darkness; dangers posed by depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder.

But there is a value to night and darkness. No one has done more to help us see what we miss when we miss darkness than Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night. We’ve turned away from the dark; we don’t see what it has to offer. Today, Mark Vanhoenacker wrote an elegant piece reminding us of what we can appreciate about even the shortest days of the year.

The darkness offers us a chance to pay particular attention to what is special about lights – Christmas decorations, for instance. Dec 2010 034

Meanwhile, we should take advantage of the chance to see brightness when we can. Soak in those days when the snow sparkles and shines! Take time during the day to look out the window and feel the sun… the apricity, to use a word Robert MacFarlane reminded us of…

 

There’s too little to do

Well, most of what we do in other seasons is still possible.

Basically all of the indoor activities – concerts, plays, restaurants, coffeeshops, shopping – are still available.

Are winter recreation activities more limited than summer ones? Yes. Does that mean one can’t go outside between December and February? No.

For that matter, in contemporary Milwaukee, we usually have snow cover for less than half of that period, and there are plenty of days where it hits the 40s – and usually at least one where it hits the 60s – so we can easily participate in a lot of outdoor activities like biking, running, basketball on the warmer days. Appreciate the rare days when we do have snow – and enjoy other opportunities when we do no.

To some extent, the available events are a result of choices we have made as a society. As David Staples said of Edmonton: “Winter can clobber you if you let its icy hands keep you indoors. I’ve been roughed up by winter at times, partly because of our collective failure to build an accessible, enticing outdoor winter culture.” But that is a choice – and we can choose differently.

Are these attitudes shaped by lack of others outside? The local park usually looks quiet, yes. But it doesn’t have to be.

And one can enjoy the relative solitude of Winter walks.

For those who might need more help from others, there are group celebrations of Winter. Early in Winter, we have plenty of December-holidays-themed activities. In January, many state parks and local nature centers have some type of ‘Winterfest’ or ‘Candlelight hike/ski’ event which can be celebrated. Check those out, to make Winter more memorable! DSC02092

We can focus on what is there to do, and what there is to appreciate.

 

It is dangerous

Yes. I will not deny or diminish that. This is something to be aware of.

Dress carefully. Don’t take unnecessary risks. I try in my posts to only advise people to appreciate winter in safe ways.

Some, for instance older Americans, face particular challenges. I understand that their opportunities to appreciate Winter will be more limited, and I regret that.

But for those of us who do not face such challenges – we can focus more on savoring the moments when we can appreciate it.

Play it safe.

 

Too difficult for the poor

Yes, I agree. But that – like the dangers provided by summer heat (see Chicago heat deaths) – is by now, in the U.S., mostly an issue about social priorities. Given our current wealth and technology levels, it is not the case that Americans struggle to survive during the winter because our society does not have enough wealth to keep all of its citizens warm. (Similarly, all Americans could be kept safe from summer heat – or from the dangers of society – if we made different choices as a society.) The weather itself is not the issue here, but rather our choices as a society, to not take enough care of our fellow Americans.

 

It looks grey and ugly

Yes, it does, in some places.

So, look elsewhere. Look away from the streets.

Our reliance on automobiles, and the way they shape our experiences of Winter, too often narrow what we look at.

Winter has the brightest moments around here, when sunlight reflects off of the snow.

(This piece of mine is worth revisiting, as a video essay which demonstrates some of the places I suggest watching – and looking away from.)

 

It looks boring

True, there is less color. But there’s a lot of variety one can find. There is likely less variety to see on a given day, in terms of color, or animals one can view. On the other hand, as I have often posted about here, there is a lot of variety between days. (Only fall-color season can match it.) So much changes, depending on what is or isn’t frozen, if snow does or doesn’t cover the ground, if snow does or doesn’t hang from branches, and so on!

 

It lasts too long

Keep active. We have diverse seasons here. The season will eventually change.

Sometimes I find this rhetoric puzzling. Last year, I saw articles proclaiming ‘The winter that wouldn’t end’ – in the first week of February? (Calendar winter only begins on December 22, folks. It runs 3 months. Early February is less than halfway through) Who in Wisconsin grew up expecting that snow would melt for good at the end of January, replaced by temps in, say, the 40s or higher? That is just not the climate here. There’s going to be some kind of cold weather, most likely. (Also, this year we had temperatures around 60 in early December – this doesn’t look likely to be a long Winter, given how late it started.)

So I acknowledge some of the challenges posed by winter. I hope we can do more, together as a society, to lessen some of those challenges.

 

But I also think we can do our part by being more open to and optimistic about what winter has to offer. And by becoming a part of the enticing winter culture we would benefit from!

 

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About MilwaukeeSnow

Dr. Jeffrey Filipiak, Milwaukee's Ambassador of Snow, loves winter, Milwaukee, and environmental history! He has taught college courses on topics including history, writing, environmental ethics, food studies, the Great Lakes, and sustainability. You can contact him at ambassadorofsnow@gmail.com.
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