So far the weather has been mild: no sustained snowfall, no frightening ice storms, no polar vortex. It is downright balmy for mid-December.

But we know that is about to change. Global warming notwithstanding, winter is coming. It is the annual turn away from the sun – so hard to adjust to, so easy to despise.

And yet there are many rewards of the season. Winter is a time of immense beauty and deep contentment, when the fresh snow cover paints a portrait of white serenity; when we curl up with our books and snuggle in the warmth of inner fires; when we bundle up for long walks in the woods, where the trees show us their true shape; when the glow of family and friends cheers the long, cold months.

Winter’s hardship is bracing, austere and pure. That great philosopher Mike Royko wrote that Chicago-area winters build character. He was right: if we can endure a sub-zero morning waiting for a train that seems perennially on the horizon, we can endure anything.

The cold weather makes other seasons better, too. Winter is what makes spring delightful, summer lazy and fall spectacular. Life is change and contrast. The seasons bring both.

Children experience winter differently, of course. For my grandson Ben, who turned 11 a week ago, winter brings holidays, snowball fights, sledding. And of course, his birthday.

“Except when it’s really, really cold,” he says. “Then it takes forever to bundle up.”

Then there’s the downsides, the reasons so many snow birds flee to warmer climes. Even though the days are getting longer, it’s still dark early. The sun seems to abandon us for days at a time. Neighbors stop seeing each other as everyone burrows inside. Cabin fever sets in. The cold seeps into the bones. Even walking outside is hard in winter.

“The human brain,” said Thoreau, “is the kernel which the winter itself matures.” Summer is for playing, winter for understanding.

And what we come to understand is that life is often a challenge and our ultimate end is the cold. That is winter’s message.

Life is hard. Winter is hard. Life is winter.


Les is a longtime Evanstonian and RoundTable writer and editor. He won a Chicago Newspaper Guild best feature story award in 1975 for a story on elderly suicide and most recently four consecutive Northern...