Winter’s Voice Hard When Below Zero Temps Reign

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By Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

The voices of Winter

Winter’s frigid voice is hard when the temperature falls far below zero.

Before one even ventures out the door, leaving the morning warmth of home, the bitter cold announces itself in the long brittle crunching of a vehicle’s black tread stepping heavily on yesterday’s now spiky slush.

It is broadcast in the crack of the cold-stiffened wooden step that seems to fracture in protest against the weight it now bears as a bundled figure steps out the door.

It is heard in the crunch of a boot on Arctic snow, the boom of cracking ice on the lake, the scrape of a shovel on concrete, the tightening of the timbers in the home, and the whine of a cold engine starting.

When the temperature sinks to minus 20, every man-made thing enduring the frigid cold protests. The garage door labors to rise and fall, as if it suffers aches and pains with every inch of movement. It loudly protests with a drawn out racket shouting its reluctance to the waking neighborhood.

Each sound is unnaturally loud in the cold, clear air where no bird sings at morning’s light, and there is no pulsing chirp of a million insects to fill the night. Cold silence is the province of deep winter; until broken by the cold clamp on nature or our invention’s resistance to its dominance.

Winter closes in as it wears on. It clothes us in layers against the cold, cocooning us away from the world. Snow accumulates and as it is does it creeps in against our pushing back, narrowing streets, long country driveways, decks and sidewalks. Our mindset too easily comes to wear the overclothed and closed in sense.

But there is optimism in February’s lengthening days and warming sun and that varmint out in Pennsylvania seems to agree. Even if he had predicted six more weeks of winter we would say, “Bring it on.” We would welcome winter ending in the middle of March.

And what does the groundhog know of global warming and polar vortices, El Nino and La Nina, or the North Pacific Oscillation?

Groundhog Day is an astronomically based holiday, Deanne Morrison of Minnesota Starwatch writes. “It’s one of four ‘cross-quarter days’ celebrated by the ancient Celts midway between a solstice and an equinox. It was believed that if the day was sunny it augured continued cold and winter, but cloudy, shadowless days presaged spring rains.The Celts called the day Imbolc, meaning lamb’s milk, because it fell at the start of lambing season.”  The Celts were living in England on the European continent at the time.

Native Americans knew and settlers knew something about the progress of winter illustrated in the naming of the moons. February’s moon is known by a number of names including the Snow Moon and the Hunger Moon. February was a time of accumulating snow and deep drifts. It was a time when the game became more scare, predators more desperate and daring in their forays into farmyards.  As the month wore on, it was also when the food stored up for the winter in the pantry began to show its depletion.

February’s moon was also called the Bony Moon and Little Famine Moon, reflecting the growing thinness of food supplies. It was also known as the Trapper’s Moon as during these coldest days of winter in a month closing out winter’s coldest months, the fur on the beaver was thickest.

This February’s full moon will be a super moon when it arrives Feb. 19 only seven hours after its lunar cycle around the Earth brings it closest to us. Of course, the early settlers of this land knew nothing of lunar cycles, but they did know the harsh realities of a cold winter.

As we observed earlier, our days are now getting longer and the sun has the strength even on cold days to warm surfaces and melt snow.

Since Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year, we have picked up 1 hour and 16 minutes of daylight. It is getting noticeably lighter in the morning and staying light longer into the late afternoon. During February we will pick up 1 hour and 18 minutes of light. February 1 the sun rose at 7:43 a.m. but by Feb. 28 it is rising 40 minutes earlier at 7:03. The sun set at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 1 and will set 38 minutes later at 6:08 p.m. Feb. 28.

Date    Sunrise    Sunset     Daylight hours
Dec. 21    7:58    4:42    8 hours 44 min
Feb. 6    7:37    5:37    10 hours 0 min
Feb. 29    7:03    6:08    11 hours 5 min
Daylight gained     40 min    38min    1 hour 18 min

This is the last month of meteorological winter. But seasons never let go easily and we know March can bring deep snows and frigid temperatures all the way up to the last day. Still, it’s hard not to let the mind wander to warmer days.

And what is the end of winter? Is it the last snowfall? Is it the warmth that comes from the lengthening day that melts the snow and sends it running in sparkling rivulets down the city streets, or off blackening fields into drainage ditches? Is it the grass turning green as the snow fades away? On what night do we hear that first insect chirp, and what morning that first robin sing?

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