“The life force that pulsates in the trees, plants and animals is the same life force that pulsates within us. The same life energy that gives us the power to speak and to sing is the power behind the song of the bird and the roar of the lion. A sincere seeker or a true believer cannot harm nature because he or she sees nature as God. He doesn’t experience nature as separate from himself. He is the real lover of nature. The Earth, trees, plants and animals are all manifestations of God. We should love them as we love our own self.”
As we look out of the window at the snow falling down and ice and frost everywhere, it is easy to get into a frame of mind that is negative and dismissive of winter. But if you spend a bit of time looking and exploring, then you may see that winter has wonders of its own.
Adaptations to the Cold
Many plants and animals have amazing adaptations to cold weather. Conifers have needles rather than leaves because needles lose less water. This is an issue in the winter, when the ground is frozen, and the roots of plants and trees cannot take up water. Deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter for the same reason. Trees like holly have waxy leaves which again reduces water loss. Plants such as rhododendrons which come from the Himalayas keep their leaves over the winter and produce wonderful flowers in the spring. We have plants that flower over winter, none are native to the UK but they are common such as Mahonia – wonderful scent and yellow flowers. This plant originates in Oregon in North America – so some animal there must be attracted to the scent. In our friend’s garden we have seen little birds going to them perhaps attracted to the sugar solution, and by doing so they pollinate the flowers.
Some trees such as birch and maples (related to the sycamore tree) are able to withstand very low temperatures. Maple trees are found in Scandinavia and in Northern Canada, both covered with snow for long periods during winter. They drop their leaves in the autumn and live off sugar sap, created over the summer, which they store in their roots over winter. Once spring arrives the sap rises to assist with the emergence of leaves. In Canada this sap is often tapped, and boiled down to produce wonderful maple syrup.
Many conifer seeds need the extreme low temperatures to germinate. The Taiga forest, which is in Siberia is covers thousands of acres and for a large proportion of the year is extremely cold. This forest is essential for the planet as it absorbs a huge amount of carbon dioxide and provides breathing creatures such as ourselves with oxygen.
Closer to home the winter benefits the UK! Garlic, which some of us use in nearly all of our meals, actually benefits from being in frozen ground. Freezing helps to break up soil clumps, so making it easier for oxygen to be accessible to plants. It also kills pests such as slugs (unless they go very deep in soil) and aphids (which can overwinter as adults).
The Beauty of Nature in the Winter
Snow and ice and frost have a special beauty of their own. We have been out walking near our home in the winter in certain valley, when all the grass and trees were covered in a thick hoar frost. It was stunning. To go walking during a heavy snow fall can be very special too. The quiet stillness of snow falling on a windless day is really quite breathtaking.
We can also enjoy the wonder of looking out over the moors, or other beautiful countryside, or a town park and seeing it covered with white.
The Fun of Winter
Obviously, not everyone should go sledging, depending upon their health, but it is still fun to watch people enjoying themselves doing it. Everyone, however, can make snow men and snow sculptures. Feeling self-conscious whilst making a snow sculpture can be a bit of a hurdle when you are an adult, but once you are through this hurdle, you find your inner child guiding you on what to do, and how to do it. This morning we made a snow Buddha/meditator in our local cemetery. Although a tad wonky we enjoyed working with snow and spending time in winter wonderland. Throwing some snow at a loved one or friend can also be fun whatever your age, especially if you hit them and they miss you!
And what about snow angels. Those mystical creatures you can make by lying on new untouched snow and moving your legs and arms. If you are careful you can leave no foot prints so the next people along can be amazed!
Every January we “wassail” our fruit trees. This is an ancient English custom in which people literally sing to their fruit trees wishing them good health for the coming year. “Wassail” is Anglo-Saxon for “be of good health”. Here we are wassailing our trees with friends!
If you want to know more about wassailing customs, then the internet is an excellent place to look.
The allotment has had a difficult 12 months. It has been under standing water at least 4 times (it may have happened more, but we just weren’t there to see it). We have harvested almost the last of the swede crop, down by about 90%. The remaining leeks are looking very bedraggled and small. We think that the garlic bulbs we planted are partly washed away by flood water. We can only hope this year is better. Little can be done in this weather – feeding the birds and breaking the ice on their water is all we manage.
May this winter time be one of joy.
Om Namah Shivaya