By Julie Reardon
THE BEAUTY OF WINTER
All the things I love about winter would be a pretty short list. It’s my least favorite season even though as winters go, Virginia’s aren’t too bad and this one has been relatively mild thus far. The form of depression resulting from not enough daylight, called SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is real: I’m pretty sure SAD affects me and a number of other folks I know, especially after long stretches of gray, overcast winter days. It’s hard for me to fathom how people stay sane in places like Alaska and Scandinavian countries, where the sun never clears the horizon for weeks at a time.
So my challenge this year is to seek out and embrace positive reasons to enjoy the season, instead of my usual funk and tendency to dwell on the worst of this time of year. Initially what came to mind were little things, such as the smell of smoke from fireplaces and woodstoves, flannel sheets and pajamas, and the pristine beauty of the first snow. But, we don’t have a wood stove and our fireplace has gas logs. And that first, pretty light snow? Usually happens in late fall, not winter. New fallen snow is lovely, especially when you see it in photos and not mounded up outside your door.
The mountain views Fauquier County and surrounds are known to open up when all the leaves are off the trees. Sometimes you can see distant Blue Ridge vistas that are hidden behind the canopy of tree leaves, and get a better look at many area historic homes and farms obscured by acres of trees most of the year, with the added benefit of less traffic on the prettier roads. Some of the pretty winter views remind me of good black and white photography since the palate is so muted.
For the many people that hunt, winter is a favorite season. Winter months are usually less crowded with weekend warriors and fair weather hunters, so it’s easier to locate a good spot, and easier to track and see your quarry. Around here, mounted fox hunting goes on through March, and in the days when I was foxhunting, I preferred the smaller number of riders in the field to the giant cavalry charges of October and November. The fall blaze of color fades to shades of grays and browns, and the leafless trees heighten sights and sounds, making it easier to see and hear hounds working and often, view a glimpse of a hunted fox or coyote you’d miss earlier in the season.
While my dogs don’t care about the weather, I do, so I live vicariously through friends that absolutely love winter waterfowling. For most, it’s their favorite time to hunt birds. Waterfowlers are a hearty bunch and winter storm fronts that send the rest of us hurrying to our fireplaces, are their signal that ducks and geese are on the move. Wind and weather stir up the ducks and geese, and many migratory species don’t even arrive in Virginia until January. Like waterfowl, deer and small game become more wary late in the season, but this is when skill trumps luck, so the successful hunter truly has something to be proud of.
By February though, most hunt seasons are finished so it’s a little harder to find reasons to like the season. Race horse training is in full swing for the early season point to points as well as area flat tracks. For those without access to a training track like many steeplechase trainers and foxhunters, snowy fields and gravel roads are just some of the creative ways to get or keep their horses fit. Pleasure horse and farm animal chores fall into the drudgery column. Keeping livestock fed and, especially watered, has to happen every day, whether you feel like it or not. Scooping poop can be an exercise in chiseling and prying frozen mounds off the ground, and muscling a frozen hose into the house to thaw is just a nasty, dirty job.
Here our horses prefer to drink from the spring fed ponds, but they freeze after a prolonged cold snap. So sometime in December, out comes the big metal watering trough, the longest hose and the 100-foot extension cord for the floating tank de-icer. Fortunately the trough is downhill from the hydrant, so once filled, the hose can be disconnected, straightened out and stretched downhill to drain. If you forget that little task, then it’s a wrestling match to get that frozen bad boy inside the house to thaw, and make another dirty mess. And if you forget to move it before a big snow, it can be a bit of a job to find and then dig it out.
I love the look of nice gloves. But I’m not one who uses gloves much, except when it’s bitterly cold. Some people wear them year-round, for every chore, from washing dishes, to house cleaning, to gardening. I’m not one of those. I wish I liked wearing them better, my hands would probably look nicer too, but they seem to interfere with every chore. It’s a toss-up between losing that dexterity to frozen fingers or trying to do simple things like connect hoses with gloves on. I’m in the camp of finding gloves awkward to work in and easy to lose. My real favorite thing about winter, and the solstice December 21, is that the days gradually get longer even if the thermometer doesn’t follow suit for a few months.