Those of us who live in snow lands love to complain about the weather. We tell stories about spending the night in a church basement when the highway shut down, and the time it got so cold that spit froze before it hit the ground. Local newscasters demonstrate how it’s actually possible to hammer a nail with a frozen banana, just so we watchers can feel proud of how tough we are. (Of course, we’re sitting inside as we watch the news.)
I’m half convinced we’re bluffing, though. I think we secretly love winter. I know I do. Skimming across a frozen lake on ice skates as the sun sets behind the mountains, making cross-country ski tracks through a foot of fresh powder, riding a chairlift to a summit rather than spending all day climbing—what’s not to like about winter in a place like Colorado?
So, to those of you who live in Florida, Brazil, or other places closer to the equator than to one of the poles, we up here on the tundra appreciate your sympathy. Truthfully, though, you don’t know what you’re missing.
In Chicago, where I used to live, winter seemed to draw out the best in people. I noticed that people seemed most cheerful on frigid days. Waiting at bus stops, commuters actually talked to each other! (About the weather, of course.) Entering a coffee shop, you need only stomp your feet and say “Brrr!” and a chorus of strangers would start swapping stories about the blizzard of ‘78 or the year the pipes froze. Even the buildings looked friendlier: puffs of smoke wafting from their chimneys made it look as if they were breathing, like something warm and organic.
Winter presents a common enemy that surrounds us in the very atmosphere. We huddle together behind barriers of plaster and brick, warming ourselves for an expedition outdoors. Together, we’re going to beat that enemy. We are like warriors in a cave, trying to work up courage against the herd of mammoths outside.
Admittedly, sometimes the mammoths win a temporary victory. I have vivid memories of March, 2003, when seven feet of snow fell on our house in Colorado and we went without electricity, heat, and water for a week. We had a fireplace in one room, at least, and enough propane gas to melt snow on the stove. I snowshoed up a hill and stood there listening to loud cracking sounds, like rifle fire: huge limbs were breaking off, and whole trees laden with snow were toppling over. Deer lunged through drifts as high as their heads, stopping to pant after each laborious leap.
“God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways,” said Elihu to Job. “He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’ So that everyone he has made may know his work, he stops all people from their labor.” It happens every few years in cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York. Trains cease running, cross-country skiers replace cars on the streets, and everyone stops from their labor.
Winter, above all, brings the human species down a notch, curing us of hubris. It reminds us of our true state: vulnerable creatures at the mercy of the elements, dependent on each other and also on God who created the planet. That’s a lesson all to easy to forget…until the next blizzard.