by Henrylito D. Tacio
“To people used to living in the tropics, snow is good to look at and to feel the first time around. When I was a small boy I had only admiration and wonder beholding those Christmas cards showing those beautiful winter scenes of rooftops and treetops laden with virgin snow and of fields all covered with pure white snow.” That was what my friend Mar Patalinjug, who now lives in New York, wrote me some years back. Well, most Filipinos have not experienced winter or have not touch snow (although they may have seen it in the movies, pictures and television). And yes, I had the opportunity of touching the real thing several times already!
The first time was in 2000, when I went to New York to talk with multi-awarded environmental journalist Don Hinrichsen about a paper we would present in Washington, D.C. a year later. It was December when I arrived and the air was very, very cold. It was good that I had a winter jacket (which I won when I attended a media conference in Bangkok, Thailand).
One Saturday morning, Dr. James W. Hansen (a close friend and former colleague at a non-governmental organization where I work) and his wife Merlie (the former Pagbilao and also a friend) and daughter picked me at the hotel where I was staying. The Hansen couple works at the Columbia University in New York but lives in nearby New Jersey.
When I arrived at their house (where I stayed for two days), there was still no snow in their backyard. As we slept, snow fell down and when I woke up the following day, I saw snow right in front of my window. I went out from my room and touched the snow for the first time in my life!The words of Christina Rossetti came into my mind: “In the bleak midwinter Frosty wind made moan, / Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone; / Snow had fallen, snow on snow, / Snow on snow, / In the bleak midwinter, Long ago.”
More than not, now, I knew what the Bible meant when it said: Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). White bond papers, white shirts, and white paints these are not pure white at all. Not until you have seen snow, you cant tell what pure white really is!
Being a tropical country, the Philippines has only two seasons: dry and wet. In the United States and in other temperate countries, there are four seasons: spring, summer, fall (also known as autumn) and winter. The latter is the season with the shortest days and the lowest temperatures. In areas further away from the equator, winter is often marked by snow. This was the reason why when I was in Durban, South Africa some years back, despite it was winter season, I never saw any snow.
Depending on place and culture, what is considered to be the start and end of winter vary. Contemporary meteorology takes winter to be the months of December, January, and February in the Northern Hemisphere and June, July, and August in the Southern Hemisphere. However, many cultures in Europe and East Asia consider winter to begin in November.
Astronomically, winter starts with the winter solstice (around December 21) in the Northern Hemisphere and June 21 in the Southern Hemisphere), and ends with the spring equinox (around March 21 in the Northern Hemisphere and September 21 in the Southern Hemisphere). In meteorology, winter is by convention counted instead as the whole months of June, July and August in the Southern Hemisphere and December, January and February in the Northern Hemisphere.
What happen during winter time? Frances Theodora Parsons shares: “During the winter I am content–or try to think I am–to make my head-quarters in town and to get fresh air and a broader outlook at intervals that are frequent, but still at intervals. Perhaps, the walk or drive out to the frozen lake among the hills for an afternoon’s skating is the more keenly relished because of a busy week elsewhere. For all practical purposes nature is at a standstill. . . .
“There is a wonderful joy in leaving behind the noisy city streets and starting out along the white road that leads across the hills. With each breath of the sharp, reviving air one seems to inhale new life. A peace as evident as the sunshine on the fields takes possession of one’s inner being. The trivial cares which fretted like a swarm of mosquitoes are driven away by the first sweep of wind that comes straight from the mountains…
“The intense silence that broods over the snow-bound land is a conscious blessing. The deep blue of the sky and the purple shadows cast by the trees and plants are a feast to the eye. The crunch of the snow-rind beneath our feet and the varied hum of the telegraph wires overhead are music to our ears.”
A lot of famous authors and prominent people have written or spoken something about winter. George Herbert wrote: “Every mile is two in winter.” Victor Hugo quipped: “Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.” Rudyard Kipling noted: “No one thinks of winter when the grass is green.”
“Winter is not a season, it’s an occupation,” said Sinclair Lewis. “Perhaps I am a bear, or some hibernating animal underneath, for the instinct to be half asleep all winter is so strong in me,” argued Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
Oftentimes, winter is often equated with old age, sadness, and death. Charles Kingsley wrote: “Every winter, when the great sun has turned his face away, the earth goes down into a vale of grief, and fasts, and weeps, and shrouds herself in sables, leaving her wedding-garlands to decay. Then it heaps in spring to his returning kisses.”
Agustin Gomez-Arcos agreed: “Often in winter the end of the day is like the final metaphor in a poem celebrating death: there is no way out.”
Advices abound winter abound. Robert Schuller reminds: “Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.”
Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu said, “We cling to our own point of view, as though everything depended on it. Yet our opinions have no permanence; like autumn and winter, they gradually pass away.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe compares: “Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it.”
The second time I experienced winter was in December 2002 when I returned to present the paper in Washington, D.C. Then, when my sister and her family transferred to Livingston, Montana, I also visited them during winter time in 2003. After attending a conference for science journalists in Montreal, Canada in October 2004, I decided to visit my sister again and stayed there until January 8.
Now that I had experienced winter four times in my life, all I can stay is that I still prefer summer better. As Josh Billings points out: “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”
Yes, it’s good to be back in my native Philippines! — ###