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 sunset

For 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. 

Child with a magnifying glass

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 Snow

For 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.

During 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 Sunrise

A 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 snowfall

I 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 Prairie


Photo credit to Jill O'Brien



  • Posted on by bob jackson

    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.

  • Posted on by Cheves

    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.

  • Posted on by Steve Gibbs

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

  • Posted on by susan kaput

    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.

  • Posted on by Diane Aspengren

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

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