Winter’s Question

Of Earth’s four seasons, Iowa wears them all. Each has its own look, its own color, its own mood; and each its own job. Winter drives the birds south and the people indoors and the renewal of spring invites them back. Summer’s heat grows the corn and the crisp days of fall prompt every long-lived being to prepare to survive winter.

Just a month in, this winter is deep. The windows and wood stove wage war for temperature territory and we live in the middle of their battlefield. Because the windows have the upper hand I resort to down vests and soft blankets to keep warm. One step out the front door is enough for the wind to whisk away the microclimate of warmth I produce for myself and I know that without shelter I would perish.

Winter was weeks away when our pond froze for the year. My son stalked it daily to assess its progress toward becoming a skating rink. It snowed before it reached the required four inches and he worried over what the snow would do to the quality of the ice. Within days it achieved its depth and as he shoveled with his grandfather and little sister they discovered perfectly preserved but lifeless specimens of bass and carp, bluegill and catfish suspended under clear, black ice.

Our fish didn’t survive into the first week of official winter. It wasn’t the cold that killed them. It was the snow and the seasons which came before. Fish breathe oxygen. When lakes and ponds freeze over, oxygen gets trapped below the surface. Our pond is small, three-quarters of an acre, and while there may not be enough trapped oxygen for the fish to survive whole winter, when the sun penetrates the ice it activates the plant material at the bottom to release oxygen so the fish get what they need to breathe. Snow sitting on the surface is a problem: it blocks the sun and prevents it from carrying out its work.

A half-week of sun-deprivation was more than our fish could tolerate. They should have been able to hold on longer, but the seasons leading up to winter were tough. Fall was dry. Summer was dry. Spring? I don’t even remember. The pond was low and stagnant; its water couldn’t sustain them.

This winter we’ll skate over a scene from Ice Age and lament the loss of our fish. My husband will research ways to aerate the pond and search for a breed of trout suited to Iowa. We’ll anticipate the return of the frogs’ symphony, silenced in recent years by the fish which crowded them out or consumed them. Spring’s thaw will call raccoons and other critters to the pond; their quest to survive will rid it of the remnants of death.

For now we’re in deep winter. The longest months are pages yet to be turned on the calendar and fall’s gathering has worn thin. The news informs us of  a propane shortage. Our woodpile has dwindled below where it was when we lit last year’s final fire and winter’s question hangs in the chilled air: Will what I gathered be enough to last?

Spring will come. The lights in the heavens are not just to separate night from day; they are signs for seasons and days and years. The calendar moves ever on and spring is on its way. Some years I emerge from a long season of wintering with the sense that I’ve barely survived it. This isn’t one of those years; I’m faring better than the woodpile. Still, when spring arrives, I’ll be ready.

And you? How are you wintering?

Sharing stories this week at Michelle’s Hear It On Sunday, Use It On Monday, Denise’s Inspire Me Monday, and Lyli’s Thoughtful Thursday.

12 thoughts on “Winter’s Question

  1. Sylvia R says:

    What an interesting and beautifully written post! I learned some things I didn’t know about pond life—and we have two ponds, both very solidly frozen over! What a winter this one is!

    I’m glad we have alternate heat to just the two indoor wood stoves we relied on for several years, but even that good hot-water-radiant heat (from the outdoor furnace) just hasn’t been enough to warm the house either, this winter! Downstairs the only way I could get the temp above 62 F yesterday was to do an electric oven cleaning! (It needed it anyhow.) Even then, the living room temp didn’t get up to almost comfortable till it was time for bed, and for turning the thermostat back down!

    I was looking forward to the quiet of winter, but now this winter’s become one that makes a person look forward to spring with deep pleasure!

    • Natalie says:

      Oh, the joys and pitfalls of heating with wood! At least it helped you get a little household chore done. Thank you for stopping by and for your encouraging words.

  2. Dayle says:

    Natalie, another great post. Even though you win the temperature contest for lowest, even here in Southeast Texas it’s been way colder than we’re used to, with below freezing temps and scary wind chill factors. I think we’re on the same page, as I have a blog in the queue about this same topic.

    Here’s praying you’ve gathered enough and that the woodpile is sufficient.

    • Natalie says:

      It’s been quite a winter, hasn’t it? I’ll be glad when the severity – which I believe is quite relative to where you live and what you are accustomed to – of this winter has past. I’ll be watching for that post. Thanks for your kind words and prayers.

  3. WholeHearted Home Judith Kowles says:

    When I sit down, I bundle all up and often with a blanket as well as too many sweaters. It was 1F this morning. It actually went down two degrees from when I first looked at the thermometer, go figure. You are right about the wood stove and the windows!! We keep that thing chugging away day and night and it is still cold, especially in our bedroom. I will have to bring in wood today or there won’t be any to burn (inside) by tomorrow. Loved this post. Found you on Michele DeRusha’s blog.

  4. Simply Beth says:

    “Spring will come.” I must admit I’m wondering if this is a winter I will survive. I was all for embracing this winter withuot my husband around but it has been HARD. But love the promise that spring will come and the evenings of curling up with a warm blanket and hot cup of tea really aren’t so bad.
    Visiting from Inspire Me Monday and delighted to be here. This gave me some needed warmth. 🙂

    • Natalie says:

      I have prayed for you and your journey toward the end of this season. Thank you for your encouraging words to me today. It blesses me to know that this gave you some needed warmth today.

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