The curse called winter
classic G. George Ostrom column from November, 1969.
As a kid being raised up in the Hog Heaven hills, I was never straight out told by my parents or by anyone else that winter was a curse of the land; but somehow I got the feeling all grownups looked upon the months of November though February as a time of year which was about as enjoyable as a visit from your freeloading relatives…with the small pox.
Even as late as the 1940s the only folks I knew who sincerely enjoyed a serious visit from the north wind were my idols, the backwoods trappers. Winter to everyone else was a time of entrapment, shoveling snow, stoking fires, suffering through the early morning ring of frost on the outhouse seat, and a thousand other little miseries now-a-days confined to the beleaguered citizens of Al Capp’s famous Lower Slobbovia.
Being a practical as well as an ingenious animal, man first attacked his winter problems by inventing food preservation, sophisticated heating systems, colored TV, snowplows, and fire water. Along with these blessings, man made life even more tolerable during the snow season by also inventing snow tires, party telephone lines, birth control pills, Las Vegas, business conventions in Las Vegas, and 37 paid holidays for government employees. This happy cake is annually given a new yet ever glistening frosting by a mass audio saturation application of a song called, “White Christmas,” which has been so effective people of my generation usually think Jesus was born in a snowstorm so intense the three wise men came to Jerusalem wearing three pairs of thermal underwear, and their camels drank antifreeze.
We have to assume, for the sake of this epistle, that most fortyish folks in these parts have a similar historical concept of winter. (My baby brother, Ritchey, hated his Saturday night bath at Hog Heaven in a cold galvanized tub so bad that he has now installed a swimming pool inside his home so that his children can swim in a humidity controlled environment, even if the outside temperature drops to 50 below zero.)
The point of all this dialogue is simply this: we have fought winter for so long many of us have forgotten or overlooked our fantastic ability to at last really enjoy the very special world that winter creates. The first obvious break-through was the development of the power ski- lift. This enabled the cabin fever victims to find relief outdoors on sunny days. Then astute entrepreneurs made skiing a fulltime sport by developing ski lodges with fireplaces and lady’s tight pants, which overnight turned skiing into a spectator as well as a participant sport.
All this is well and good, but for many of us it still leaves a thirst and a yearning to meet nature on her own terms, to go beside the ice locked streams where beaver ponds gleam in the moonlight, where wolves still howl for the hunt when hoar frost rims the dark spruce forests, where bighorn sheep turn their backs to the gale on the windswept shoulders of Mount Hinkel, and the crafty catamount stalks the deer yard.
We can do it, gentlemen. All we have to do is decide what type of 4-wheel drive we need, which of the many lightweight but nourishing foods to take, what kind of clothing to wear, where we want to go, which is the best brand of sno-cat suitable for our purpose, should we take a gun or a camera, or both, and what kind; if we decide to fish should we take a hatchet or a power ice-hole cutter, can we use our toilet model camper, or do we need a ski plane.
Right now I’m planning a January trip to a secret lake for combination big game winter range photography and fishing trip. I’ve settled all the major questions, including the camper vehicle, sno-cat, food, clothing, tent, sleeping bag, camera, gun, and the choice of 23 different lightweight compact stoves, but I seem to be bogged down on a fairly simple item. I just can’t decide whether to use my old fashioned rawhide bear-paw snowshoes, the polyethylene jobs, or those new nylon web trailers. Guess the old folks were right. Winter is really a curse on the land.