Memories of winters past are crystal clear

Jerry Apps
Many winters have come and gone since those days Jerry Apps spent growing up on a farm.

Several years ago, I wrote a book titled The Quiet Season about winter. Here is a little of what I included in that book:

Many winters have come and gone since those days I spent growing up on a farm.  Although these stories happened many years ago, the details are as vivid to me as if I experienced them yesterday.

I remember the feeling of walking back to the house after the evening milking on a below-zero night.  I would look upward and behold a sky full of stars, for there was no light pollution, nothing to block out the tiny slivers of light punching holes in the black night.

I remember trees in winter, the oaks and maples, aspens and birch, stark, thick gray trunks and bare branches like hundreds of skinny fingers reaching skyward, grasping for the unknown, embracing the unknown, embracing winter and allow it to paint ribbons of snow on their branches.  Evergreens became pieces of art: the spruces tall and pyramidal, covered with snow from top to bottom; the red and white pines looking a bit tortured as their limbs sagged under the weight of the winter white.

I have always been intrigued by snowflakes, especially the large, cotton-like ones.  I like to watch snowflakes falling en masse, and I marvel at how quickly they can turn a drab and brown landscape into a world of white.  Most impressive to me is the close-up of a single snowflake: a frilly, fragile piece of frozen water that nature has arranged into the most intricate of patterns.

Winter brings sounds heard only during those cold months. A crow’s call in winter is one of my favorite sounds.  Crows are tough birds. Songbirds pack and leave for the South in winter.  So do the wild ducks, Canada geese, and sandhill cranes. But not the crows. On a cold day when I’m out walking, I often hear crows calling, a lonesome, solitary sound. When I hear it I am reassured; winter may be the harshest season, but the crows remain, withstanding the worst that nature throws at them.

Perhaps the most striking and impressive sound of winter is the sound of silence. In winter the birdsong and animal chattering, and fluttering of leaves has ceased. On a windless day there is often no sound at all. I may not have understood the power of silence in those days, but I do today, when it is more difficult to find than it was when I was a kid.

Of all the seasons, winter is the most influential on the lives of people who experienced it. It is not just the length of winter that creates a group of people called “northerners.” It is the less tangible, often mythical characteristics of winter that forge a true northerner.  Winter is much more than cold and snow.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Take time to remember how winter has influenced you.

Jerry Apps

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 or contact him