A long hard freeze is the hallmark of a proper Kansas winter. Although now in decline, the sharp cold spell remains a measure of our sense of place. Winter’s sustained cold was once expected to last from preChristmas through Valentine’s Day and into March’s Ides. We’ve even known a good snow in April. This was weather that gave footing to the calendar.
There were the occasional balmy surprises, but we knew winter to be snow and blizzard season, and more frigid than not. And until recently, a winter with prolonged mild weather was unsettling, out of bounds, inconsistent. A tropical breeze in February will only raise doubt, the vague feeling that unscheduled blessings carry a price to be named later. This year, a good surprise.
Winter has returned for a visit. We hear remarks about the rain and snow, complaints about how cold it is. In Kansas a sustained freeze has been necessary for nature’s natural reset. A long deep cold stifles the threat of disease-spreading insects, stops the smaller life forms that tend to threaten horticulture and agriculture and even spoil the simple pursuits in spending time outdoors. And what of dormancy, that nurturing sleep for lawns and garden? Michael Pollan, the environmental writer, believes that gardens may require walls in time as well as space. “The garden winter doesn’t visit is a dull place, robbed of springtime, unacquainted with the extraordinary perfume that rises from the soil after it’s had its rest.” Winter’s rebooting, its raw icing, brings a sense of satisfaction and reassurance; a Kansas winter without sustained cold and good snowfall should provoke unease and suspicion. Winter is the landscape’s necessary reboot, says Pollan.
Spring marks the earth’s return to freshness, a promise that cannot be kept, if not for the frost. The long cold snap is nature’s frozen caress, one that says, You’ll thank me later.