Feel like spring? Maybe it's a woodpecker thaw

Jerry Apps
A winter thaw allows both man, beast and fowl to regroup, resupply and prepare for winter's next blast.

When I woke up that morning, our upstairs bedroom with the stove pipe leading from the downstairs woodstove was warmer than usual. Much warmer. After quickly dressing in front of the woodstove, I found my barn lantern and headed to the barn for the morning milking. In those days we had no electricity and milked cows by hand.

Once outside, I noticed that the kitchen porch eaves were dripping, the snow was mushy underfoot, and it was foggy. So foggy I could scarcely make out the barn and it was only a short hike from our farm house.

“Feels like spring,” I said to Pa, when I arrived in the barn. Pa laughed. “It’s a woodpecker thaw,” he said. “Be cold again in a day or so.” 

The entire family enjoyed the brief pause in the long winter.

Last week we experienced a “woodpecker thaw” when the temperature at the farm climbed to 45 degrees, the eaves dripped, the snow became mushy and fog encapsulated everything. It was a much appreciated break in the snowy cold spell when temperatures fell into the minus twenties. These winter thaws allowed all of nature’s creatures, as well as we human “northerners” to re-group, re-supply and prepare for the next blast of winter. 

I learned from when I was a kid to take winter as it was delivered, but also to appreciate and enjoy those few days when winter retreated for a few days. When the temperature felt spring-like, and snow melted, at least some of it.

THE OLDTIMER SAYS: Ah, the joy of a woodpecker thaw.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to