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 Jo Anne Busch

    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.

  • Posted on by Ann Ratcliffe

    Exquisite photos and beautifully written “commentary” – thank you, Jill

  • Posted on by Lan Evenson

    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.

  • Posted on by Keith and Kay Lewis

    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.

  • Posted on by Jim

    It’s a toss up Jill, whether you write or photograph better.

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