The benefits of winter

The Biosphère on a cold winter's day.
Credit: Espace pour la vie (Richard St-Jean)
The Biosphère on a cold winter's day.
The benefits of winter

Like a lot of people in Québec, towards the end of October I’m discouraged when I see the days get less bright, feel the cold rain that goes right through us, and witness the power of the wind that strips our trees of their beautiful colors in order to make way for winter.

But when the first snow falls to the ground, I’m overwhelmed by a moment of grace, and I see all the possibilities opening up to me. I feel very lucky to experience this wonderful moment every year.

For a large part of the population living in Canada, winter is associated with snow, with ice, with blizzards, with wind and with the risks that wind chill brings with it. Certainly, winter has its share of unpleasantness, like the cold that insinuates itself into our homes. Road travel grows more complex as snow and ice pile up on the ground. Most plants lose their splendor, and many animals and insects implement all sorts of strategies to survive the winter. A number of them disappear for a few months during the cold weather.

Winter nevertheless has its advantages. The city and nature are covered in a soft white mantle that makes them beautiful. Silence can be heard, and a certain peace reigns over us. Like many fans of winter, I enter into the paradise of cold.

Experiencing northern culture

Winter plays an important role in art, literature and music. It influences fashion, leisure activities and the many sports practiced in Québec. Heading out to cross-country ski, skate or snowshoe brings me the greatest joy. However, the enjoyment of these sports is threatened by climate change. According to Ouranos, a consortium on regional climatology and adaptation to climate change, the season for ski centers in the Eastern Townships will undergo a reduction of 10 to 20 operating days by 2050. Another striking example: according to research conducted by teams from McGill University and Concordia University, our outdoor skating rinks are possibly in danger. Those unrefrigerated surfaces may even disappear in southern Québec in a few decades. The winter-sports culture integrated into the daily lives of citizens in northern countries depends on just a few temperature degrees.

Benefiting from the protection of cold

Cold and winter fulfil an essential role in nature and even have benefits for our health. A Scandinavian study mentions that the cold improves blood circulation and heart health.

The cold is also an element necessary to the survival of northern wildlife and flora. Moreover, the great temperature gaps between the seasons and the cold weather in Québec limit the local spread of many infectious diseases transmitted by animals, mosquitos and ticks coming from other parts of the world.

Observing the unique

The indigenous nations have for millennia been celebrating the solstice on December 21 that marks the beginning of winter. They take advantage of that moment when the Sun’s course is the shortest of the year to observe the stars. The Cree culture is one of those that mark this event, as do the Abenaki.

Let me seize this opportunity to share my suggestions for taking a fresh look at winter and appreciating its benefits. For observing wildlife in winter, foxes and cardinals can easily be spotted on a guided tour at Mont Boullé, led by the team from the Biosphère in Parc Jean-Drapeau. A stroll through a wooded area near where you live with a good camera or binoculars may also surprise you. Take advantage of some important tips courtesy of wildlife photographer Julie Audet for discovering animals in winter.

Appreciating beauty

Whether sculpted by nature or by an artist’s hand, ice is a masterpiece. The film Worlds of Ice playing at the Planétarium allows us to explore its material properties, its diversity in the Universe and its importance in maintaining life.

Cold and winter make a good team, offering invaluable benefits for ecological balance and human health.

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