The Weight of Winter

After less than nine hours of daylight, the sky reaches down, touches the earth and the two seal up like a clamleaving us in the premature, murkiness of night.Prairie sunsetFor those who need the light, the quiet weight of darkness can be crushing. To maintain wellness during these shortened days, I look for light elsewherein the glow of a fire, the sunlight catching snowflakes, the smile of a child. Outside in the prairie’s pitch blackness, winter's silence is broken by the howls of coyotes alerting each other to their whereabouts. The nighttime predators, from cats to skunks, slip through the shadows mostly unnoticed in search of their next meal. And the buffalo are on the move, grazing to stay warm and nourishedsustaining enough calories to get them through.Bison herd Grazing in SnowFor us humans who live in sub-zero, winter temperatures, it is difficult to get excited about going out and about. Perhaps if it were necessary to find our next meal, there would be more incentive. This is when I’m perfectly happy to stay pent-up, grateful for the modern conveniences of food in the larder, and the appliances that house and heat the food.Winter on the PrairieDuring the deep winter, I no longer try to fight the darkness—instead, I give into it with a winter hibernation sleep pattern and go to bed early. Early to bed means early to rise and the coffee is made long before there is any sign that time has moved forward, even though ten hours have passed. On the cold, lightless, weekend mornings when the rush to start your day isn’t necessary, the aroma of coffee beckons the accompaniment of sausage and a stack of pancakes with real maple syrup. The warm, golden elixir glows as it's poured over the cakes, swirling with the butter before it drips over the edges like a slow-moving waterfall. I like my pancakes thin, with crispy edges and a creamy, malty flavor. The first bite is instant pleasure and it lingers all the way to the last mouthful of the sausage that mopped the plate of any remaining sticky goodness. I am happily satiated by the time daybreak's show begins.Buffalo at SunriseA crack in the seal appears in the form of a thin red ribbon, prying the sky loose from the earth. A new day is dawning and each following day forward will be a little earlier than the last. On some mornings the seal doesn't crack, winter clouds loom heavy and low, changing the darkness to a shroud of whiteness. It is beautiful though, as the light seeps through, spotlighting only the things that can touch it. It is also magicaland in the magic of it, we know it will disappear, we just don’t know when. So, we cope with the weight of winter the best we can, although that coping is different for each of us... Bison in snowfallI personally recommend hibernation sleep, time with family & friends and “weekend” breakfasts of sausage and pancakes covered in golden maple syrup. That’s how the light gets in.Winter Sunrise on PrairieP.S. Today 12/21/21 take 15% off Wild Idea Breakfast Sausage 

Story and photo credit, Jill O'Brien


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  • Besides raising bison with extended family order, I also was a back country ranger in Yellowstone for 30+ years. Wintertime meant skiing to cabins to shovel roofs. And also, to patrol. Sometimes 100 miles through those mts. and ten days out. Some cabins were 17 miles apart. No way can you make it in daylight hours. 50# survival packs … and stream and river crossings. So each cabin had old-time alarm clocks. Tic toc, tic toc. Then up, thawing ice to drink and fill water bottles. Off in the darkness. The sound of one ski in front of the other, miles and miles before daylight broke. Bison lying next to trails. All snow and frost covered. Just bumps barely made out. Just the soft sounds of their breathes. Never to get up. ski through them. The darkness was/is the light of nature.
    Not Jill’s pancakes as much as biscuits in a wood stove oven on lay over days. and powdered eggs. Not quite as luxurious, but it achieves the same emotional deep sense of enjoyment. Oh, once in a while, depending on the cabin, those big bulls would use the cabin to rub on. Peacefulness and happiness for all. Have a good Christmas and New Year.

    bob jackson
  • Thank you, Jill. Reading your words brought healing energy. We are by no means dealing with sun-zero temps, just chilling rain, but you’ve hit on what’s important especially in these stressful times. Take care and sending love back to you.

  • Love your photos and the sentiment. Winter is wonderfully undiscovered. thank you Jill

    Steve Gibbs
  • Thank you for that beautiful story. I really appreciate what you and your family are doing for the land and for all of us as well. Have a wonderful holiday.

    susan kaput
  • Love the amazing story of LIGHT on the SD prairie , when “””the Buffalo 🦬 roam “”””& cheers to Dan & crew @ Wild Idea. 💞❄️❄️

    Diane Aspengren
  • Beautiful description of hibernation and the natural order of winter life, moving from darkness into light, and delicious breakfast! Can’t wait to try the sausage.

    Julia McSherry
  • though I am miles away, I am in, I am in… love, love all that you are, all that you do…

    Cindy Lou Hess
  • Your pictures are wonderful. Those two little guys are as cute as they come. Your breakfast looks delicious and after reading your story, my dislike for winter is a little less. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thank you, Jill. Awe-inspiring!!

    Fee Jacobsen
  • Beautiful descriptions of winter schedules and spectacular sunrises. Is there anything better than sausage and pancakes?

    Jane Murphy
  • Read your post this a.m., brought back memories of childhood, when we living near the Salmon River and Sawtooth mountains in Idaho. The elevation was around 7,000 feet so your description was so accurate for there also. The tempature could go as low as 50 below in winter, our house was not well insulated, we had 2 heating stoves, one cook stove and at times had all three burning. Guess who had to pack wood? The kids! Most winters we had lots of snow, four or five feet, and we played outside well bundled up when it was above zero and only during daylight. On Saturday or Sunday our family went skiing with another family then met for supper of waffles and sausage. Later we played cards. Thank you for sharing.

    Jo Anne Busch
  • Exquisite photos and beautifully written “commentary” – thank you, Jill

    Ann Ratcliffe
  • Your details so wonderfully written of the bitterness of the frigid winter. I am living with the below zero temps in the metro area of Fargo, ND the winds are dangerous with below temps. The photos that accompany your story are very fitting. I really appreciate both you and Dan’s writing.

    Lan Evenson
  • WOW. What beautiful children. What a wonderful essay and photos. What a vital mission!

    We’re so thankful that another generation is being raised to appreciate Nature and Compassion.

    And sitting here on this stormy Atlantic isle looking out toward the horizon, I’m inspired by your imagery: " the sky reaches down, touches the earth and the two seal up like a clam." And I’m reminded of a song: “fine is the line between the sea and the sky. Fine is the line between sky and sea.” Both images—the sea and Great Plains—nurture feelings of home.

    Note: “Wildest Sea” from the CD titled “Clearwater” performed by Chris and Meredith Thompson.

    Keith and Kay Lewis
  • It’s a toss up Jill, whether you write or photograph better.


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