Finding joy in a cold, snowy winter

If you want someone to blame for last week’s weather, look no further. For several months, I have been using all my mojo to call up a hale and hearty winter in Northeast Ohio. I began doubting my powers as we slogged through a muddy autumn and early winter. But then, success! A large polar vortex broke apart, sending one section straight down from Canada to the Midwest.

I feel most alive when outside on a crisp winter’s day. The air is void of pollution-trapping humidity and with each inhalation my lungs quickly warm frigid air. Bundle up to shovel, sled, cross-country ski or walk the dogs in deep snow, and soon clothes are coming off. Even on bitterly cold days, if the sun is strong and the wind low, it’s easy to stay warm.

Give me hard winters and mild summers over mild winters and hot summers. For when it’s hot, there’s only so much you can take off.

I suppose there are location-bound Akronites, here because of jobs or family. But I chose Akron and part of what I love about this place are the (typically) snowy winters. I lived in Columbus for 10 years where winter is six months of dreary skies from which white stuff occasionally drops and promptly melts. Freezing rain rules Central Ohio winters, and there’s nothing fun about freezing rain.

But snow, oh, my! In the snow belt across the nation, kids build snow forts and snow creatures (we had a 15-foot dragon one year) and enjoy pelting one another with snowballs.

Leif and Angus at the Sand Run Park sledding hill on MLK Day.

Here in Akron, we can do even more with our snow. The Summit County Metro Parks have sheltered fire pits at their many sledding hills and skating rinks. Granted, the skating rinks require more than snow, they need frigid temperatures, which is one more reason to call down a polar vortex.

We also have great skiing here. Sure, the slopes at Boston Mills and Brandywine aren’t the Rockies, but guess what? My kids can ski at resorts with large slopes because they learned how, starting at age 7, in the very affordable school ski programs BMBW offers. When Claude and Hugo each turned 18, I bought them their own downhill skis, which they’ve taken to various slopes across the country.

Beyond the fun of our wintry winters, they are also vital. Frigid temperatures are the bane of invasive species — both fauna and flora. Brown marmorated stink bugs, emerald ash borers, gypsy moths, hemlock woolly adelgid and more destroy trees and crops across Ohio.

Indigenous animals evolved with indigenous plants. When invasive plants take over habitats, they crowd out native species, thereby denying food resources to Ohio’s wildlife.

Like most invasive bugs, invasive plants also often originate from temperate climates and die back in cold winters. Japanese honeysuckle, bush honeysuckle and common privet are all invasive plants. So, too, is purple loosestrife, phragmites (common reed), garlic mustard, autumn-olive and more.

Many invasive plants were introduced by gardeners. These include ornamental pears and Buddleia, the butterfly bush, which does not feed the butterflies found in Ohio. Please consider removing cultivated invasive species from your gardens and replacing them with beautiful native plants (or even non-natives that aren’t invasive).

Fungus is another problem addressed by cold winters. Bat and amphibian populations have been devastated by fungal infestations due to mild winters. Who doesn’t love to hear spring peepers heralding the renewal of life each spring or watch bats swoop in the skies on a summer’s eve, clearing out large quantities of mosquitoes? I do.

And then there is my dark side. I derive a nearly perverse pleasure when imagining the death by cold temperatures of three of Ohio’s native pests.

Number 3: Poison ivy. After a stern winter, this noxious sumac is not so glib the following spring and summer. It stays where it should, in the darker recesses of wooded areas, rather than running amok as it will after a mild winter.

Two of my boys are terrifically allergic to poison ivy. Fun fact: pregnancy can change the immune system of women, including their allergy status. The visceral feeling of running hot water on a poison ivy rash is indelible. But I’ve not experienced it since the birth of my eldest child, 25 years ago.

Number 2: Ticks. After 2 consecutive mild winters, I found the blood suckers on my pets every month in 2018. Granted, I walk my dogs in woods and fields most days, but I pulled off ticks, which look like grayish kernels of corn after a day of feasting on a host, almost daily last summer. I found the last tick of the year on one of our cats on Christmas Day.

Number 1: Fleas. When I was a girl, I remember my mother whispering that one of our neighbors had fleas. She indicated fleas infest homes that aren’t very clean. It’s true I will never win the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for a spotless home. But a spotless home isn’t healthy either. Nor does the dirt bring the biting beasties inside. The pets do, particularly cats.

For many years, we had one cat. His name is Boggart, but I referred to him as “Last Cat.” Then, in June 2017, at the house where Max has his law office, a feral cat had six kittens under the front porch. We found homes for three and kept three.

Last summer, another litter of two kittens was born under the same porch. We were able to catch only one.

“I’m going to call him Cuddlebug,” said Leif, who is the only one small enough to crawl under the porch and retrieve kittens.

Our four recent additions to the family.

“We’re not keeping him, Leif,” I said as we drove the kitten home to clean him up. Yet now there are five cats. (I swear we aren’t hoarders, but feel free to call us weird cat people. It puts us in good company.)

For several weeks last summer, the back of Leif’s legs looked like he had chicken pox, so dotted were they with flea bites. All of the over-the-counter flea treatments that worked in prior years failed. For three months before the first frost, I spent $140 a month on prescription flea treatments from our veterinarian. Those fortunately did the job, making them worth every penny.

So revel with me over the beauty, fun and environmental function of this glorious winter. And in wishing a frozen pox on our native pests.

This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday, January 27, 2019.


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