Yesterday was anything but pleasant. The snowstorm had passed, but it was colder than it’s been in quite some time. The wind was whipping along with gusts up to 40 miles per hour that blew the newly fallen snow across roadways and into faces. Wind chills were well below zero. It was kind of a fearful day, to venture outdoors with frostbite a very real threat. I was glad that my day didn’t require being outdoors very much, but, being an adult, I had forgotten one of the things I most admire about little children.
A friend’s kindergarten granddaughter experienced the same things I did, and instead of something negative and uncomfortable, she found fascination, wonder, and excitement. “Grandpa, I can see the wind!” And, indeed, you could. It was far more than just feeling it on your face or even seeing the naked tree limbs move. Blowing swirls of snow revealed the wind’s speed, direction and even shape. Snow drifts and wind-swirled snow offered beauty and wonder created by something that’s normally invisible. I drove home wondering how I’d missed that, and, at least for a little while, was in touch with a child’s glorious sense of wonder again.
My own two-year-old (nearly three) granddaughter woke up one morning recently and peeked out her bedroom window at a world transformed by an overnight snow storm. She was the first one up and ran to her parent’s room to proclaim that she wanted her boots and coat. In her mind, even breakfast wasn’t as important as getting outside to play in that new snow. I’m sure her dad and maybe even her older brother, now 11, were thinking – oh great, now we have to shovel all that snow off the driveway. How quickly we lose the gift of wonder at nature’s beauty and handiwork. I think, if I had been there, I would have wanted to get my boots and coat on right away, too. Childlike wonder is easier to recapture when a child is present to remind you of just how joyful it can be. Few things bring a bigger smile to my face or more joy to my heart!
Most can appreciate the beauty of a snowy landscape as long as they don’t have to move it around or wade through it, but don’t appreciate the deep cold that has settled over us. Deep, subzero cold actually has some benefits, though. Many of our yard, forest, and agricultural insect pests winter over as larvae. Warmer winters have allowed some insect pests to extend their range much farther north and increased their ability to inflict damage because far greater numbers mature into adult insects. Prolonged cold spells kill more of those overwintering larvae. Things like Japanese beetles and sod-killing white grubs should be fewer next summer if this cold holds for awhile. Ice can never be declared totally safe, but ice anglers may finally have some safer ice to fish on after weeks of unseasonably warm winter weather that’s left ice thin and variable, or even totally absent.
This week’s column is nearly done, and I have to go outside soon. It’s still below zero as I write, so I know it’s going to be uncomfortable. Most of the people I meet will probably be feeling miserable because of the cold and wonder why I’m smiling. It’s because two little girls could see what I had forgotten to notice and reminded me to be more in touch with the child I once was.
Steve Lekwa is a former director of Story County Conservation.