Winter is more than bleak

I still remember some of the songs Mrs. Anderson selected for my high school choir and my high school madrigals group to sing for various performances. I imagine this an impressive feat as my 20th high school reunion creeps ever-closer.

With the mix of voices during my junior year in madrigals, we attacked a complex acapella piece called “Chili Con Carne” by The Real Group. It had a special flavor, and even though it took hard work, it was fun to sing. I’m not sure what the audience thought, but in my mind, our performance was successful.

In one choir concert following my brother’s death in 1998, the full choir sang Karolina W. Sandell-Berg’s “Children of the Heavenly Father”, alternating between English and Swedish. I love that song. It is beautiful. I first learned it as a child, preparing for my church’s annual Swedish Supper. Singing it during a high school performance was fitting for a community boasting Swedish heritage. What I remember most about that particular performance was collapsing in tears into Mom’s arms after the concert ended. She was full of tears, too.

At Christmastime one year, our madrigals group performed “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti. Without the lyrics in front of me, I couldn’t sing along anymore. I still, however, remember the feelings it evoked in my young heart as we learned the song. On one hand, I felt singing it as one of our Christmas songs was a waste of other, perfectly good and happy Christmas carol options. On the other, the melancholy beauty of poetry set to music touched my soul in ways a glossier song couldn’t. This performance was also after my brother’s death, and the depth of the song hit places and emotions I wasn’t able to express as a teenager, or that I even knew I felt.

And that’s the song that has routinely come to mind over the last months, particularly after realizing I’d been living in the winter even during the heat of summer (see Aug. 18, 2018 edition).

The song starts, “In the bleak midwinter / Frosty wind made moan / Earth stood hard as iron / Water like a stone / Snow had fallen / Snow on snow on snow. Now, I realize that snow on snow on snow is currently difficult to imagine in Kansas (though we might get a taste this coming weekend. Cross your fingers.) But as far as my soul, what it has known the last couple years was snow on snow on snow.

However, as someone who actually likes winter and snow, I had to ask, “Does winter really have to be bleak?” Surely there is some good purpose to winter. It has to serve a purpose. It has to DO something, otherwise it wouldn’t have been created.

So I did some research, naturally, to the tune of “Hey Google, what’s good about winter?”

In agriculture, a snowpack helps insulate crops. As the snow melts, it adds moisture to the soil, giving crops a drink in warmer months. Severe cold can also lessen the bug population, providing less risk to the crops.

Cold weather reduces the mosquito population.

For hibernating animals, a harsh winter means they stay asleep, rather than awakening early to a mild winter, yet still with limited food resources.

Like crops, perennial landscapes enjoy benefits from snow as well, reaping the insulation snow provides. The ground stays warmer under a blanket of snow, which in turn can lead to a healthy start to spring greenery.

Finally–and this caused me to ponder the most in regard to the implications of my soul-winter–there are more benefits for winter tapering off slowly rather than quickly.

“A heavy winter helps recharge fields, wetlands, lakes and streams-–as long as all that snow slowly melts away into the ground in the spring, rather than a rapid thaw that keeps all that moisture from soaking into the soil,” said Greg Mercer in an article called “Why a Bad Winter is Actually Good” for the Waterloo Region Record.

I think that’s interesting. It seems the majority preference rests in getting winter over as quickly as possible. Snow seems to equal a headache and we want to take a Tylenol and get on with life.

I’ve been guilty of this as I’ve impatiently waited for my spring.

Realizing that a slow-melting snow soaks moisture into the ground in larger quantities compared to an abrupt winter’s end makes me appreciate a slow arrival of spring.

Perhaps I’ve too often thought of my winter as bleak, when really, it’s doing something, and my desire to rush the seasonal change would actually do more harm than good.

I think I’ll ponder this with a cup of hot coffee and some music.

Malinda Just has been writing Lipstick & Pearls for the Free Press since 2008. To read more of her writing, visit her blog,