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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Long, Cold Winter

Air Date: Week of

This has been the longest, coldest winter the Northeast has seen in years, reminding many people of winters past. Commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg says it’s been the most old-fashioned for the animals on his farm.


CURWOOD: The northeast is beginning month five of its first real winter in years. It's been a shock to some. For others, it's felt familiar, almost comforting. For commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg this winter has brought new perspectives on himself and life on his small farm.

KLINKENBORG: One morning last month at 6 a.m. the temperature was 12 below zero. A few days later at the same time, the temperature was 12 above. To a thermometer, the difference between those two readings is 24 degrees. But to almost everyone struggling through this harsh northeastern winter, it's also the difference between the present and the past.

"An old fashioned winter" you hear people saying, as though the snow were falling to the sound of sleigh bells. On a bright, blowing day the air fills almost invisibly with particles of snow that catch the sunlight. They look like the stars you see when you stand up too quickly. At night the moon coasts through the sky like the source of cold, shedding its beam on a frozen world that the sun, when it finally rises, is powerless to warm.

We have the makings of a glacier all around us on this small farm. Every step we take compresses the snow a little more, and the pressure slowly turns the snow into ice, just the way it does in a real glacier. If spring ever comes, the last thing to melt will be the ski tracks along the fence line.

When I walk across the pasture with one of the dogs, I can feel the history of this winter underfoot. Sometimes the snow crust from the Christmas storm bears me up, and sometimes I break all the way through to November. Badger skims across the snow, plowing it with his nose, until suddenly he holds up a paw, whimpering in the cold.

Then we run for the house. In the chicken yard, the hens and roosters stand first on one leg, and then on another, as though they were marching in slow motion down the alley between the snowbanks. On a 12 below morning, I realize that the animals are the ones really having an old fashioned winter. Snow falls on the horses and never melts because their hair is so thick. But, compared to a summer full of flies, a cold hard winter with plenty of hay and fresh water is nothing to complain about.

The pigs spend most of the day bundled in their house. They look naked, but they are like land-going whales serene in a coat of blubber that keeps them warm through the worst of it. They see me come out of the house, hooded, gaitered, mittened, and balaclaved , and they wonder, what poor creature is this?

CURWOOD: Verlyn Klinkenborg is author of “The Rural Life” and writes a column for The New York Times.

[MUSIC: Ry Cooder "Secret Love" Mambo Sinuendo - Nonesuch (2003)]



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