The simple beauty of winter
“I stood, I looked, I took it all in. And in that knew how fortunate I was in times of cold.”
By Mitch Mode
Special to the Star Journal
In times of cold, skis glide poorly. Snow at subzero temperatures is unforgiving. It is abrasive. It is dry. On cold snow, skis do not slide well. There is nothing to do to change that. It is a fact of winter cold, of Wisconsin cold, of the cold of January and February when the frigid air takes hold of our world as if a cat on prey, holding fast, digging deep, showing no mercy.
Such is life. Such is winter. Winter stresses all. Car motors resist spark; furnaces run ceaselessly; my dog Fenway limps into the morning, hobbling on three feet, one lifted high to avoid the ice. Darkness falls early; dawn comes late. Biting cold, bitter chill, slow skis; it is the burden we bear in the heart of the northland.
But there is this: In winter we find beauty. In winter: Simplicity. Snow, bare trees, overarching sky. A simple world. And in that simplicity is elegance, purity and a spareness that no other season shows. To know winter is to know an elemental time of no distractions and nothing extraneous. In winter lies simplicity and elegance.
Gone in winter the clutter of other seasons. Gone the jumble of leaf and dirt. Gone the confusion of color and shape. Gone the gaudy beauty of October and the spring green of May, gone dust and heat and sound and scent. Those seasons hold abundance and treasure. Winter stands spare and stark and in that we find elegance.
Come winter and our world is stripped to bare form of dark tree trunk over wind-drifted snow. There is little color to distract; there is no scent carried on breeze; sound is muffled. Winter is painted of a spare palette, calligraphy as much as broad strokes of brush. It is a time of simplicity and minimalism. In that it is special.
Summer air can be dusty and smudged, heat mirages shimmer and images waver; detail is lost. Winter air is pure and crystalline and detail is sharp as if etched or detailed in fine ink on white parchment. In this comes the beauty of the season.
One makes of winter what one will. One can see it as harsh and unforgiving and hostile to the pulse of life. One can cower at the cold, rage at the snow, huddle against the nature of it all. Or not.
One can, on the morning of chill, leave the warmth of home and take it all in. One can take it for what it is which is unique and beautiful and special. It will not last, the cold and the snow and the evening darkness come early. It will pass as all seasons pass. The variable is how we will deal with it.
In the thin light of dawning when the sky to the east is clear and the last of night’s stars fade overhead, at that time the day is defined. In the eastern sky will come the faint bloom of early sun but no warmth. Clear mornings bring the cold of Wisconsin winter and one only has to look to the east to know the weather at hand. Clear sky; cold air. The yin and yang of winter.
The irony of winter is that the coldest days bring the most beauty and to take it in one must leave the comfort of home. In the days of subzero air beauty is found as it is at no other time of the span of a year. Take it for what you will. Take it as you can.
In winter, I ski, Nordic style. I have skied so long in my life I no longer question the Why of it all. I simply ski. I can wax romantic at a certain level and opine that it is in my blood, my bloodline of Scandinavian ancestry, of my father’s family, immigrants that they were. I can point to my childhood and downhill skis as a three-year-old, those misty images that are so long gone that the details fade and only the memory remains: I was young and I skied.
But in the final telling only this: Come winter, I ski. It is part of who I am.
And this: Come winter, I will ski in the cold. Another memory, this of a day when I was much younger, skiing downhill with my mother and it was 20 degrees below zero. And we skied. I remember cold hands and a rope tow and my mother and I skiing and I wanted to quit and she said, “One more run.” I made one more run and then went inside to warm up. When warmed, we went out and skied again.
I was 12-years-old and on that day I learned I could ski in the cold and I could enjoy it. It changed my life. In every winter since, I have skied and I have skied in the cold, the subzero cold of Wisconsin when it comes down on us. I am not special for doing that; it is simply part of who I am. Some people go into the cold, some do not. I am one that does. I am not special for that.
The cold skiing connects me to my 12-year-old self and my mother. It links to the Norwegian and Swedes who were my father’s family. It forces me from comfort into an unforgiving world and when I come back I better appreciate the warmth of home we too often take for granted.
I skied this week with temperatures below zero and skis running slow. I skied as I could; fast days are gone to memory. On a long uphill I stopped and stood, clouds of my breath in the chill air. I looked to the woods and the sky and I saw winter’s purity and elegance and striking beauty. I stood, I looked, I took it all in. And in that knew how fortunate I was in times of cold.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.
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