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 Kathy Antonen

    Winter is my favorite season—for nature’s beauty that you capture in words and photos. I agree with the hibernation, too.

    You have a way with food and words, Jill.

  • Posted on by Lee Myers

    One visit to your ranch lingers afresh like this morning’s pancake with your photos and words. Thank you.

  • Posted on by Toni Stimmel

    Reminded me of Robert Service,
    “And speak of your cold,
    through the parka’s fold,
    it stabbed like a driven nail.”
    Re: Cremation of Sam McGee

  • Posted on by Harriott Cheves Leland

    Thank you, Jill. I can see and hear and almost feel your winter and definitely smell those pancakes, syrup and sausage. Time to order some for me. Take care.

  • Posted on by Linda Clark

    I look forward to these photo/written word essays so much, Jill, and forward them far and wide. An Adirondack Mt. childhood left me with a love of winter and your work here has given me a welcome taste of it here. Much needed as our below freezing temps of last week and the foot of snow have left us as temps climbed to 61 last night and inches of rain are about to fall. With temps falling below freezing tonight! Winter is Greater Boston leaves much too be desired, at least by me!

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