Jim McGuire: Visiting beaver


February is here—the final full month of winter. Just six weeks from today, spring will make its official debut.

I can hardly wait!

Unfortunately, the latter portion of winter has long been considered the season’s harsher half. A view bore out by the historical record.

According to weather data for southwestern Ohio, February and March generally serve up more snowfalls and colder temperatures than do December and January. Which are not exactly encouraging prospects— especially if I allow my heart to fixate on thoughts of days a’fishing amid the vernal green.

And true to form, a doubling-down of winter certainly seemed to be the case this time around. When February arrived, it indeed came in looking and feeling like genuine Ohio winter.

Temperatures—both daytime highs and nighttime lows—immediately turned decidedly colder. Moreover, like a rude departing gesture, January left us blanketed by the season’s first substantial snow.

Predictions for the week ahead call for more of the same—or worse! Winter’s second, harsher half has definitely taken center stage.

Within hours of the first snow, I heard complaints from my daughter, wife, a couple of neighbors, and the cashier at the farm and feed store where I’d gone to buy spare 50-pound bags of sunflower seeds and cracked corn. I knew bird and squirrel traffic at our feeders would increase dramatically.

I commiserated as best I could, and tried to be genuinely sympathetic. But the truth is, I like snow.

Now don’t misunderstand. Scraping ice from a windshield, or shoveling out a driveway are not tasks I enjoy. Neither is wading the dirty slush in a parking lot while a northwest squall stings your eyes with sleet and blasting arctic cold threatens to turn your spine into a popsicle. Making those necessary slip and slide treks from your vehicle to a store’s shelter and blessed warmth can be downright awful. And I don’t have a single masochistic bone in my body.

But I do like seeing a forest or field covered with snow. Snow transforms the common into the extraordinary and translates the familiar into the marvelous. Snow is both lovely and magical—a natural wonder that simultaneously conceals and betrays, clarifies and cloaks, hides and unveils, astonishes and explains.

A familiar meadow buried beneath several inches of snow is suddenly revealed, its underlying form openly on view. Geographical contours are as plain as the folds in a blanket. The coating of snow serves to disclose every knoll, every swale, every hillock.

In the woods, your eye can follow the undulation of a ridgeline, the flats and benches and the angle of the slopes. Your eye can follow the jagged serpentine wandering of every small seasonal streambed.

You soon find that even the most familiar lands will divulge a few heretofore harbored secrets when they are covered by snow.

Yet the opposite is also true. Snow can also fool the eye, filling and sculpting, obliterating roughness, cloaking that first layer of earth texture beneath a smooth facade.

Snow changes our perspective, causes anyone with even a modicum of awareness to see things differently.

A cardinal in the backyard feeder looks as scarlet as spilled blood against the backdrop of snow. Jays in the bankside hackberries are like pieces of azure sky.

That crumbling barn in a backfield corner becomes an abstract study of line and shadow—brushstrokes broad and narrow, daubs of gray shingle and rusty brown tin roof, the remnants of foundation wall a patchwork of lichen and stone. All topped with white.

While what’s left of the sagging rail fence in the same meadow weaves like black stitches mending a white bedsheet.

Thanks to snow, the usual chaos is hidden. We discern things we’ve heretofore missed. Unexpected beauty is quietly displayed.

It’s the difference between merely seeing and amplified insight. And snow imbues all of us with this special vision.

Of course, I have my limits.

My level of enthusiasm for snow—as is the case with most things—generally depends on their length and level of discomfort.

Should the snows keep coming down, and temperatures insist on repeatedly dipping into the single digits—with no warm days to allow for a brief relapse melt—my penchant for artsy romanticism will eventually give way to pragmatic reality.

Bundling up like a polar explorer for a quick slog to the mailbox will soon lose its charm. And I’ll get tired of tripping over woodpile logs hidden beneath multi-layers of snow.

I like snow…but I have no plans to move to Minnesota.

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