Winter, friend or foe?

David EideOpinions Columnist

As I’ve previously stated in this column, fall is and remains my favorite season.  However, I also have an appreciation for the other seasons, particularly winter.  Unlike with fall, my relationship with the coldest of the seasons is a bit more complicated than pure affection, as I also have to consider both the eerie beauty and the biting cold at the same time.  Winter is somewhat paradoxical in that regard, it is serene yet barren, comforting yet deadly.  I want to use my last opinion for this year to explore several of the most personally fascinating aspects of winter which I think speak to the dual nature of the season.

I’ll start off with the main impetus for this article, the blizzard.  Last Friday night I was helping to valet cars for Christmas in Christ Chapel and the weather was decidedly unagreeable.  As I’m sure you remember, the winds were brutally cold and what had started out as sleet earlier in the day had transitioned into a blowing snowfall as night fell.  On one hand, it was not fun at all to stand outside for several hours trying to keep keys and other things organized all while the wind somehow kept getting stronger and the snow kept piling up.  Even wearing several layers and with freshly purchased pocket warmers in tow, it was rough going basically the entire time and I had to leave before my shift was technically over just because of how bad conditions had gotten.  In spite of these terrible conditions, there was an undeniable beauty to them as well.  The fresh snow coating the ground and the near total silence besides the wind lent an otherworldly appeal to that night that few other moments in my life have captured.  Of course, I appreciated it a lot more once I was back inside my heated room but I don’t think I would have appreciated quite as much if it hadn’t been for those couple of hours spent outside in the cold.  

I’ve found that this dual nature of winter can often be communicated through media very effectively.  For example, one of my all-time favorite films, The Thing by John Carpenter is very effective at conveying the unforgiving nature of winter and the cold.  The film is set on an Antarctic research station, where a shapeshifting alien organism is preying upon the staff in hopes of escaping into the wider world.  In the film, the cold serves as both an obstacle and a protector, as while it keeps the staff of the station trapped there with the creature it also prevents the creature from escaping into the wider world.  I think that the beauty and the danger of winter can be conveyed very well by interactive media such as video games. One of my favorite examples is The Long Dark, a survival game.  The game takes place in the remote Canadian wilderness and owes a lot to The Grey starring Liam Neeson or some of the stories of Jack London.  You play as the survivor of a plane crash following a major geomagnetic storm who has to survive the frigid yet alluring landscape along with predators, like wolves.  The Long Dark can be pretty difficult which communicates the danger of winter and the cold while also looking very pretty which I think is a very fitting dichotomy.

A cursory look at history also reveals the immense power that winter used to hold, and for many across the world continues to hold, over life and death.  The past is replete with reminders of how if you were not prepared for winter, whether it be with shelter or with proper provisions of food, you were effectively as good as dead.  I’ll always remember a description of what rural life in the winter was like prior to widespread electrification.  It effectively consisted of huddling together for warmth in the biggest bed while a single fireplace burned for most of the day interspersed with the other critical tasks that needed to be performed.  Of course, there is the infamous story of the Donner party, a group of pioneers headed to Oregon who wound up snowbound in the Sierra Nevada mountains following the onset of winter.  They soon ran low on provisions and began dying of starvation, disease, and of course, the ever present cold.  It eventually reached a point where many of the survivors were forced to resort to cannibalizing the already deceased to have any hope of surviving the winter.  If that doesn’t convince you of the power that winter and the cold holds then I’m not totally sure what will.

As I’ve said many times in this piece, winter is beautiful and simultaneously incredibly dangerous, and personally that is the main allure.  To me, the most fascinating things in life are those that have a duality to them and contain both positive and negative aspects in balance with each other. If you take anything from this article however, it’s that you should never underestimate winter, because it can turn even mild situations into deadly ones far more quickly than you might expect.