We tend to think of winter as the drab season: cold, bleak, somber, lifeless. But if you look closely, you might find winter has a palette as plentiful as its three seasonal cousins. Maybe winter is not as verdant as spring, nor as lush as summer, nor as glorious as autumn, but it is every bit as artistic in its own right. In fact, winter’s thin palette may be the most wonderful of all because it makes such creative use of minimal daylight, hue, and shade to make the maximum visual impression.
There’s another dimension to winter’s colors: in a denuded world, you can see sights that are hidden by the fullness of the other three seasons. The far-off creek made visible through the leafless trees; the bright, silent stars in the night sky; the small birds making their way through sparsity. It’s as though nature’s curtain has lifted to allow us a better glimpse of more of the majesty behind it.
There’s also a soundtrack to winter: the wind sighing through bare branches; the raucous party of geese settling in for the night; the heave and creak of ice along the shore; even the hush of a heavy snowfall. Maybe, if you listen long and hard enough, you might even hear the song of sap rising in the maples, the thawing of the frozen ground, or the whisper of the brave little daffodils poking their heads above ground reminding us that this, too, shall pass.
But despite its muted colors and sounds, winter is a quiet moment, the best time of the year for dreams and contemplation. Find a good book and put another log on the fire; burrow down under the covers and take an afternoon nap; fill your home with the aroma of something savory baking in the oven. And even if, in this fretful new year, it’s still a challenge to find ways to share all that goodness with others, just enjoy the closer circle that surrounds us as we wait out the storm.
Winter may seem to be a time of impatience and waiting, but it can also be a productive time if you let it. I was thinking about all this because a few days ago, the wee wife and I took two of the grandkids to the Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge for a hike. It was a relatively mild day, the kind of day that seems to make light of winter, if only for a few hours. The kids weren’t bogged down with hats and mittens and heavy boots; they could run ahead of us and stuff pine cones in their pockets to feed the fire pit when it came time to make s’mores. I had hoped to be able to point out an eagle’s nest, but we settled for a bright red cardinal in a thicket. And when the trail ended at a patch of beach by the river, the kids fell to making a teepee with big pieces of driftwood worn smooth by the wind and tide. We watched their imaginations at work, far away from the computer games and television shows of the digital world back home.
On the drive home, we talked about animals that hibernate, everything from bears to snakes. We played a game that awarded points for spotting silos, tractors, red barns, combines, windmills. The rules changed as we went because the final score wasn’t really all that important. What was important was the gift of winter—the time it was giving us to be together in a world full of sounds and colors all its own.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com