Finding Winter’s Joy
Story and photos by Meredith Bernard
Having grown up in the south, I know there’s some things that can always be counted on. Sweet tea on the menu. Homemade biscuits at Granny’s house for Sunday lunch. Leaving Granny’s and hearing “watch for deer” as a term of endearment. Hot humid summers with a side of flies and their biting cousins that can only be thwarted with a greasy dose of Skin So Soft. Fish fries, pig pickins, and church stews. Longleaf pines, mountain laurels, and piles of crunchy leaves in yards that are magnets for children to jump in after the piles have been made into neat stacks. All of these are memories from my childhood, but some of my fondest memories are from things that can’t always be counted on in the south — like a big snow.
I grew up on the southernmost Wake County line. We might get to see some snow during winter, but we might not. It seemed like we lived just under an imaginary line that kept it from hardly ever reaching us. I remember my mom and dad piling my brother and me into Dad’s two-toned blue Chevy truck — the one with the camper shell that had a plywood “bed” where we made a pallet to lie on and could talk to our parents through the sliding glass window — and heading to Roxboro when it snowed. We took our rarely-used sled and found an unplowed parking lot where we spent hours playing. As a parent now, I’m sure it was a task for them to go to that trouble, but they never made it seem like such. All I remember was the joy of those special times when the white stuff fell.
Now that I live and work on a farm full-time with my own family, winter tends to take on other meanings, and it can sometimes be hard for me to find the joy. Here, winter means feeding cows every morning in what seems to be endless amounts of mud and cold. Most days tend to look and start the same. If it’s in the 30s or lower, the tractor needs plugging up to heat the engine so it will start. Once it’s warmed up, my husband takes the tractor with its red wagon to the silage pit to fill up with feed; also referred to around here as “cow chow.” Sometimes I ride along and wait in the truck with the heat going until he needs me to open the gates. We repeat the process of loading and unloading with three or four trips to different pastures. If we’re lucky, it’s cold enough to freeze the ground and mud, but even that has its disadvantages. Frozen, rutted ground can be as big a pain as mud three feet deep — and it gets every bit that deep or more in some places. I guess this sounds a lot like I’m complaining, and the truth is I do too much of that during the winter months. But every now and then, I’m reminded again how beautiful winter can be — and why.
That imaginary line I mentioned from my youth? Well now, I live above it. And most every winter we get to see at least two, maybe three, good snows. My husband doesn’t love it (insert more mud when it melts) but every time it snows, I go back to those same feelings I had as a child and I’m reminded how beautiful this world — and farm — can be.
It’s always fairly quiet where we live, but there’s a different kind of quiet when it snows. The kind of hush that’s so loud it makes you stop with ears to truly hear. The soft whisper as it falls and fresh crunch underfoot. Then there’s the blanket of white. Everywhere on everything. White tree limbs dotted with cardinals, more red than you ever realized they were. The brown-scaped pastures painted with winter-white, fresh and new. Green tractors with white tops. Dirt roads turned into white-washed lanes. Long rows of golden hay bales nestled under a pure white cover.
And then there’s snow cream. Snow cream! I’m fairly certain most reading this will know what snow cream is, but for those who might not be aware, it’s basically the most delicious version of homemade ice cream you’ll ever have. Fresh snow, (make sure it’s not yellow) mixed with some sugar, vanilla, and milk. Some people get fancy and use sweetened condensed milk — I’m not saying that’s wrong. It’s only wrong to never try it in some form or fashion, and that’s a snowy hill I’m willing to die on.
The best part though? Seeing our children enjoy the snow as much as I did as a child. The anticipation of it coming, or even better, waking up to a snowy surprise. Scurrying through closets and drawers to find toboggans and gloves put away last year. Or not put away and now lost. Maybe one day they’ll listen to their mother, but I won’t hold my breath. Opening the front door wide to let the dogs out to have their first traipse in the yard, chasing their own tails and each other, eating snowballs being thrown between siblings. Finding just the right hill, sledding down, and then trudging back up to do it again and again. Being pulled behind the side-by-side, trying not to get thrown off. Coming back to the house with sopping wet clothes and rosy red cheeks for a mug of hot chocolate with a fistful of tiny marshmallows swimming on top. The squeals. The laughter. The memories. It’s the good stuff, y’all.
Yes, winter can have its trials. The lack of daylight, the colder temps, the mud, (and here, manure) and the seeming monotony of it all. But, oh, what joy winter can also bring. A reminder that without the weight of winter, we would lose the purpose in the wait for spring. And I believe there is purpose in it. It’s in the wait we can tend to what needs tending in preparation to bloom. There’s a reason God made leaves to fall, animals to hibernate, and plants to go dormant. We need the same at times. We sometimes need pruning for future growth. We need slower seasons in life to focus on the now, while building a stronger foundation for what’s coming later. It’s the difficult days that can make the best days even sweeter.
I don’t doubt that I’ll still complain this winter. It’s human nature in us all. But I’m going to try harder to see more of what’s in front of me, learn from what’s behind me, and be hopeful for what’s ahead. Knowing that each season carries its own lessons and beauty when we see them for what they are. And I’m really hoping we get to make snow cream at least once this winter. Because there’s no cream like snow cream. Have I made that point clearly enough?!
Here’s to whatever winter brings for us all and the peace of mind to hold it carefully for the joy it can give if we open our hands and hearts to it.
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