Some Like It Cold

By Anita Sanchez

This win­ter, the win­ter of 2017 – 18, was a real win­ter. It was cold. I mean cold, as in chapped lips, scar­let ears, aching toes. Slip­pery side­walks and frozen pipes. The cold went on and on, with no let-up, no mild weeks of Jan­u­ary thaw to give us a much need­ed break. And we got lots of snow, too, piles of the stuff. I’m sure this is no news to any­one, and you well remem­ber your aching back as you shov­eled the dri­ve­way or wres­tled with the snow­blow­er. Win­ter this year was a real one, all right: long, hard and bitter.

Just what we need­ed.

Spring is what we’re all yearn­ing for: cro­cus­es, balmy breezes, tee-shirt weath­er. Yet as we say a mer­ry farewell and good rid­dance to win­ter, let’s take a moment to be thank­ful for the gift of cold.

Cold as death” is how we usu­al­ly think of win­ter. It’s hard to think of cold as a bringer of life. But in our lat­i­tude, plants and ani­mals have adapt­ed over count­less mil­len­nia to the phe­nom­e­non of cold. They need win­ter to make it through to spring. The seeds of many plants won’t ger­mi­nate with­out going through a peri­od of cold. Plants and wildlife — and maybe even humans — need a peri­od of dor­man­cy, a rest from growth. 

Cold is essen­tial to many forms of life. There are many sub­tle, lit­tle-noticed ben­e­fits to a steady, sea­son­ably chilly win­ter. The daf­fodils and tulips we’re long­ing to see come from bulbs that lie safe­ly dor­mant in cold ground but might rot in the mud of a damp, mild win­ter. Sud­den warm spells are espe­cial­ly dis­as­trous. Ani­mals wake too ear­ly from hiber­na­tion, move around burn­ing up their reserves of stored-up fat, and then when the cold comes back, their ener­gy is deplet­ed, and they can’t sur­vive. Buds open­ing too ear­ly get frost-nipped and nev­er become flow­ers or fruit. Birds migrat­ing north too soon get caught by sud­den ice storms. Insects pupate too soon, can’t sur­vive, and then aren’t avail­able lat­er as a food source for nest­ing birds.

Ticks are a real issue these days, and there’s noth­ing ticks like bet­ter than a gen­tle win­ter. Freez­ing tem­per­a­tures won’t erad­i­cate ticks com­plete­ly, but they help to beat them back, as well as to ham­per the spread of mos­qui­toes, harm­ful fun­gi, virus­es, and bac­te­ria.

We’ve all heard about the threat of cli­mate change. Our plan­et is get­ting hot­ter, each year alarm­ing­ly warmer than the one before. And sad­ly, we’re all famil­iar with the idea of endan­gered species of plants and ani­mals — the threat of los­ing orchids, ferns or whales. The idea of an endan­gered sea­son is even scari­er. What if win­ter nev­er came?

Like every­one else, I’ll be glad to thaw out my toes, break out the shorts, and see spring start blow­ing soft­ly in. But I’m grate­ful for a cold win­ter. Like they say, you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

Spring 2018

Volume 36 , Number 2

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