It can be hard to hold on to hope when winter is coming, can’t it?
The trees and shrubs seem barren of any evidence that life will ever reemerge. It can be rather depressing.
But if you look closely at certain plants during winter, you’ll see something exciting:
Yes, some plants, such as magnolias, actually set their flower buds for next year during the previous growing season. You can see these buds on the branches all winter long.
In the case of magnolias, the buds are encased in a hairy protective scale to insulate them from the cold, almost like a silvery fur coat. When the time is right the next spring, the flowers are all ready to burst open into glorious bloom.
Isn’t it encouraging to know that the promise of next year’s flowers is already there during the bleak winter?
In the same way, the seeds of your comeback are forming deep within you.
The joyful symphony of birdsong that graced the spring and summer months has diminished. In these parts, most birds have already flown south for the winter by now. The backyards and parks seem unnaturally quiet, with nary a chirp to be heard.
It can leave us feeling bereft, like we’re all alone.
But we’re never as alone as we might think, as we’ll see from some encouraging accounts in the Bible.
A chickadee may have a bird-brain, but it can actually be pretty smart.
Especially if it lives in a harsh climate.
What does climate have to do with bird intelligence? As it turns out, more than you’d expect.
Biologists have discovered that chickadees living in the mountains or in northern latitudes, where the weather is more severe, were smarter than their peers living more comfortably down below.
Chickadees from harsher habitats had superior spatial memories and problem-solving abilities than those living in gentler climes. They were better at finding stored caches of food and at figuring out how to access a worm treat that scientists had cleverly tucked into a glass tube.
The harsh environment makes their brains work a bit harder.
Is there a lesson for humans in the example of the chickadees?
Yes, but it isn’t to move to a more wintry climate (take it from a Canadian who’s done her share of shovelling snow—it hasn’t made me smarter!).
The takeaway here is that there can be unseen benefits to the challenges we face.
I think that’s true: you put seeds in the ground in spring, hoping most will germinate and grow into a plant. If you’re lucky, you might see hints of growth in a few days, but often it can be weeks before a little green head pokes its way out of the soil.
If planting seeds takes faith, then I think it takes a special kind of faith to plant bulbs in the fall.
In the fall, you know the days are getting shorter and colder. The leaves are dropping from the trees, and tender plants are beginning to die from early frosts. You know that snow will soon blanket the garden to the depth of a couple feet. You’re heading into a barren season.
The precious tulip, daffodil or hyacinth bulbs that you’ve just planted will disappear from your view for many months. You’ll have no indication that they’re all right, let alone any guarantee that they’ll eventually bloom. They may fall prey to rabbits, squirrels or deer. Who knows what will happen to them?
And yet you still go ahead and plant fall bulbs, trusting that they’ll survive the frigid winter and bloom later in spring.
Some things in our lives take special faith to trust for, too, don’t they?
When winter still has us in its icy grip, it’s hard to imagine that it will ever let us go. There seems to be no end to the frigid temperatures and snowstorms, and it can really get a person down.
What can we do to give us hope during a bleak, cold winter?
A favourite thing that gardeners do is to curl up indoors with some seed catalogues. They read about the promise of future luxuriant flower gardens and abundant crops of vegetables. It lifts their spirits and helps them hold on until spring comes.
The shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere is the winter solstice, which occurred last year on December 21st. From that day on, the days begin to lengthen and the sun’s position in the sky begins to rise from our perspective.
But if the days are now getting longer and we’re getting more sunlight, why does it keep getting colder and snowier here in January and February?
If you live in eastern North America, you might be lucky enough to have seen a gorgeous bird called the northern cardinal. The male is especially distinctive, with his breathtaking red plumage and black “mask” on his face.
Up here in Canada, the cardinal is at the northernmost part of its range. We’re especially fortunate that, unlike many songbirds, cardinals don’t migrate south for the winter. We get to enjoy their presence year-round.
But what on earth do the cardinals eat here, when parts of Canada might be covered in several feet of snow?
Did you know that some people make a hobby out of “reading” the forest in winter? By that I mean identifying trees despite their being bare of leaves this time of year.
This can be quite challenging, because frankly, many species of trees look almost identical to each other without their leaves. How do these nature lovers do it? How do they “fill in the blanks” and distinguish one species of tree from another in winter?