Reflections on Iowa Winters

Just thinking….

Above the buffet in our dining room hangs a framed painting of a farmstead swathed in snow, with a lonely horse and buggy going past it. When we moved to Iowa from Missouri, our dear Sunday School class bought this and presented to us as a going away gift. They thought it represented Iowa: farms, snow, and Amish. And they were right….

I grew up on an Iowa farm, and snow was a huge part of life. Some memories: parking the car at the end of the lane as it might be snowed in if left at the house… Slogging through drifts that came up to my knees or further… Freezing toes while I waited for the bus… Mounds of white covering the landscape and bowing the tree branches and shrubs… Listening to the radio to see if our school was closed…. Playing Monopoly and drinking hot cocoa far into the night when we learned school was closed… Jabbing at the waterers for the farm animals to break the ice… Having frozen pipes in the house… Snow so deep that it covered the fence posts… Driven snow coating the doors and windows.. Sledding and snowmen and snow angels…. Snow forts and snowball fights… Hard snow pellets stinging my face as I walked to the bus stop or walked the pasture to bring up the cows for milking… Scarves wrapped around my face, heavy mittens, ugly boots… And being soaked and having to hang those clothes by the hot air register…

Note that I don’t say much about the beauty of snow. I will admit to the initial beauty of the snowfall, the pristine sparkle and gentle curves of the drifts. The attached photo is the view from our front door, and there is beauty in it.

The winter view from our front door.

But the realities of living in it shadow those memories. I found snow to be cold, inconvenient, and dangerous. I didn’t have the luxury of sitting inside and just looking outside. I had to be outside in it. And I disliked almost every minute.

Snow isolated us on the farm. That honestly did not bother me too much. I’ve always enjoyed the company of my own head, and my family was big enough and creative and active enough that we entertained ourselves well. The aforementioned Monopoly could occupy days, and our house was full of books and other games. My mother was a genius in the kitchen and we would gather there and experiment with new recipes. We had an old piano and would gather around and sing. And then Mom had all sorts of jobs for us that occupied our time.

But unfortunately, on a farm, one cannot remain indoors all day. The animals must be fed, watered, bedded, milked. Eggs must be gathered. Like it or not, we had to bundle up, shovel out, and care for the livestock.

Snow was deep in my growing up years of the 1950s. I was sort of a tiny slip of a girl, and so my memory perspective was of huge drifts, and of trying to walk in my father’s footsteps as he broke a path for me to country school. I shuddered in the strong winds, and shivered as the temps plunged far below zero. My breath turned to ice on the scarf that wrapped around my lower face, which resulted in a raw rash on that half of my cheeks.

In those days, I wasn’t driving, but I remember riding in the car as my father drove, and being hypnotized by the huge flakes blowing straight at us….. looking very similar to Star Wars as they go into warp speed. I remember sliding in vehicles down hills and spinning around on the roads. My father was careful, but I was petrified.

As winter wore on, and spring approached, the gray gritty dirt on the snow obscured any beauty that it might have once had. What would melt in the day, turned to black ice at night. Then it turned to puddles and rivulets of muddy water that splashed up on cars and humans alike. The black grime covered the white salt residue on the car sides.

Snow might last from October to April. I hated it, and could not wait to leave for somewhere with better weather. So I went south…. all the way to Kirksville, MO! And honestly K’ville was no better. Students jokingly called it the armpit of MO. There was just as much snow and ice and cold. The difference was that North East MO State U did not call off classes…. One of my boyfriends there drove a little white car. One snow one night covered his car, and melded it into the snowy landscape!

Then I moved even further south…. all the way to the St. Louis area. And now there was a difference. This area was in a completely difference growing zone. Fall was longer; winter was shorter; spring came earlier. I loved it. There was still snow, but not as much. The temps were a little milder. And as a teacher, I didn’t have to get out on snow days!!! Perfect!!

I remember once during my first year teaching there asking my creative writing students to visualize a blizzard, and to write the sounds and sights of that snow storm. They sat without moving or writing. When I encouraged them again to begin writing, one said, “I’ve never been in a blizzard.” The others nodded affirmation. Ah…. Welcome to the south! Wouldn’t you know it; that winter we had heavier snow than any of the natives could recall!

Alas…. all good things come to an end. Two years ago, we moved back to Iowa. It was for good reasons, and it was the right thing to do. But besides missing all our great friends, and our great community and church, I missed the weather. Our first winter back in Iowa was a shocker. We had a 4 foot drift in the backyard, and didn’t see the ground for a couple months. We huddled by the fireplace and shivered. I owned no boots when we moved here, and stepping outside meant snow down my socks. What a welcome-back!!

I’m becoming climatized again to Iowa, but still dread the winters. Today I look out the window at blowing drifting snow. The air is that strange misty white color: no sun drenched golden colors coming through the window panes. It’s single-digit-cold outside, and the fireplace is my new best friend. The sense of isolation is still with me, but not as intense as it was in my childhood. We live in town now, and I can see some cars nervously venturing up the street. And because we have no animals outside, I don’t have to step out for any reason. I can even leave the mail in the box until tomorrow!

Bottom line: I still hate snow. I still hate winter in Iowa. But I’m here, and I’ll deal with it.

Father, You made the seasons on purpose, and for our use and for Your glory. Help me to use this season to reflect more on You Help me to see more of the beauty and less of the drudgery. Forgive me for whining about the snow, and help me see the blessings of not having to be out in it. And I ask that You protect those who out clearing the roads, and be with those who must be out driving or working in this weather. I am in the autumn of my life span now; spring and summer are behind me. Teach me this winter what I need to know about the winter of my life.

To God be the glory….

Published in: on January 12, 2012 at 6:11 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I don’t envy you; I’m not a fan of winter weather, either. I spent most of one December in Ames, and that was plenty of Iowa winter for me! Good luck getting through it!

  2. Ooooooo….. Ames is even farther North than we are! Brrr…..

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