Change in attitude needed for winter

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freshly fallen snow
It's the time of year to appreciate the beauty of freshly fallen snow. (Julie Geiss photo)

I am a true daughter of Ohio, and my pride in my state encompasses it all, from Lake Erie all the way down to the Ohio River. I do love to travel, but my favorite road leads back to home. I am thankful for the rich soil, kind people, bountiful heritage and the ability to experience changing seasons.

Winter

I do, however, have a hard time embracing one particular season. Cold, harsh and dormant are all perfect words to describe my thoughts on winter.

If I have said it once, I have said it a hundred times, if only winter was shorter. I can manage to handle it in short doses. I love waking up to a fresh blanket of white snow and then drinking my coffee in front of a fire. I can even tolerate a little sledding and a crisp winter walk. But after one day, I’m done. That’s all I need. Basically, one glorious snow day and then I am ready for spring.

My husband and I are polar opposites; I insist he must be part Eskimo. He prefers working outside in the cold to any hot and humid summer day. My kids inherited his Nordic tendencies. While I don’t mind sitting alone in front of a fire with a good book, for some reason my family wants me to join them in winter fun.

A long time ago, I decided I can’t change the weather, but I can change my response to it.

Nature’s examples

Obviously, nature provides many examples of how to cope with Ohio’s extreme weather. I could be like groundhogs and hibernate all season. These mammals are in a state of inactivity for about five months. Their heart rate slows along with other life processes. I have to admit that a long, deep sleep sounds marvelous. I have a feeling, though, that life might not go well in our house if I took a long winter’s nap. I would likely not awake to the same surroundings.

Torpor

Instead of five months of hibernation, many animals involuntarily enter into a state of torpor. Skunks, raccoons, chipmunks and opossums seek shelter before extreme weather changes. They might find refuge in a tree or under a rock or log. Similar to hibernation, many life processes slow down and their body temperature drops.

This survival tactic is shorter than hibernation. The animals enter a deep sleep, but as the weather changes, it may only last a night or several days. Other than being involuntary, a state of torpor might work for me.

Before the first polar vortex of the season, my family will be alarmed when I eat all the food in the pantry, carry blankets and pillows to the couch, and hunker down until the storm lets up.

Of course, my want-to-be-an-Eskimo husband suggested snow as an insulator. It sounds contradictory, but snow keeps the ground below it warmer than the air above it. Pheasants and grouse survive winter months by roosting under snow.

I think I will stick to using feathers for insulation like in my heavy winter coat. Fluffy, short feathers trap air creating a layer of warmth next to the bird’s body. Most down feathers used for winter coats are from geese and sometimes ducks.

Migration

Another appealing option demonstrated by the tiniest and mightiest creatures is migration. Hummingbirds and monarch butterflies start to leave our state in late autumn before harsh winter weather arrives. Hummingbirds, however, have been able to survive sudden cold nights by entering a state of torpor. Squawking and honking Canada geese also make a mass exodus in their infamous flying v shape out of the state of Ohio. I would definitely choose migration to South America, or even Arizona, over living in an igloo. These options work well for the creatures that call Ohio’s grasslands, coasts and woodlands their home.

In retrospect, the best option for me is not a change in location or sleeping habit, it is a change in attitude. In addition to simple changes like extra layering and wearing waterproof clothing and footwear, I can also focus on the beauty of the season and think of it as a season of rest and reflection.

I have also come to realize the hardest step is the first one out the door and then naturally I begin to acclimate. Activity raises my heart rate, spreading heat to my colder extremities. Then again, a high tech battery operated heated vest would do that too. Maybe I should add it to my Christmas list.

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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at juliegeiss1414@gmail.com.

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