The Inner Child of Winter

By: Jennifer Parker

When those first beautiful white hexagonal crystals fall in late November, even the most cynical and seasoned Minnesotans secretly feel that thrill of childhood, complete with an inward squeal of excitement. By the time February rolls around however, the stark white and bitterly cold rhythm of a Minnesota winter is one that non-natives may find unbearable, transplants find taxing and even natives can find challenging. It becomes harder to access that inner child (unless you happen to be a teacher that gets a snow day).  Cold hurts. Waking up blissfully in the dark of the night to a quiet, beautiful snow can quickly morph  to a panicked thought: “I have to get up at least an hour earlier to shovel”. This is a season that can prove very difficult to keep up the enthusiasm of learning outdoors. By the end of February, the pristine white has usually turned ugly brown and treacherously icy. Some days just the thought of walking outside is a lot to bear.

When the late winter blues start to rear their ugly, slushy head your way, nature has provided us with a few shreds of hope to keep you sane and convinced that there is indeed beauty and joy to be found in every Minnesota month of the year. If you are not convinced of this, I challenge you to go to either a playground or a dog park on the next snowy day.

It was one of those bitter cold days and the last thing I wanted to do  after de-icing my car and having the polar vortex blow through my snow pants was go out again in the waning light. My husky pup, Denali, however, needed to get his exercise and mark his territory. There was still fluffy snow and if I put a scarf over my hat and wore two pairs of gloves, I thought I could make it to the lake and back.  Head down, we trudged over to the park. As we reached the main path, Denali burst from my grasp with enthusiasm and literally leaped up on all fours with elation. The fresh snow was his joy. He rolled and wriggled and leapt up again. He buried his face in the snow and pushed himself along the snowy path like a bulldozer.  If dogs can smile and laugh, it was happening. It was contagious. The air suddenly seemed less frigid. Or maybe it was my cold heart thawing.

The next week the snow was mostly melted but the low area in the woods behind school had turned into a virtual skating rink. Now back in the day, this would have meant off limits for kids for fear of injury. At an environmental school, however, it is an opportunity to explore the water cycle and test properties of matter. With some strategic safety pre-teaching, a gaggle of 3rd graders were soon gleefully sliding and investigating the unique properties the melted and refrozen precipitation afforded. Rubber slid against the earth-tainted frozen vernal pond, and balance was practiced by all. Smiles celebrated the conquer of a new substrate and laughter filled the hollow in the woods.

The air was chilly and a cold mist filled my lungs. A contentment called February reminded me that unique beauty comes to us in every season. We only need to stop and notice it.

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