Neil Heinen

Winter gives us a chance to invigorate our minds and bodies

Let winter inspire us

A few months ago the editorial team here at the magazine was discussing upcoming content plans. It’s a regular meeting with the art department cleverly called the monthly art-edit meeting, where we talk about stories we’re working on in the context of photography, images, design, etc. The topic of winter stories came up, like those in the very issue you hold in your hands, and Art Director Tim Burton lamented the dearth of cold weather pictures. “It seems a lot of photographers don’t like to take pictures in winter,” he said. To which I respond, “et tu, photographers?” Are Wisconsin winters so bad that even the artists among us shun them? Isn’t beauty one of the best things winter has going for it? Can we show winter a little love?

We interrupt the winter love fest that is Madison Magazine’s “Winter Wonderful” cover story for a bit of serious reflection. Many of us talk about winter like it’s a disease of some kind, an affliction to be endured, or perhaps more often, a joke—a bad joke. The problem is, you and I might take for granted the hyperbole of the moment and the shared understanding that for all of the pained expressions accompanying references to frostbite, long underwear and feet, yes feet, of snow, deep down we wouldn’t have it any other way. Others, however, think we’re serious. Serious and out of our minds. Others, in other words, are afraid of winter, and they will not consider coming here to work or start a business because of it. That’s not good.

Editor Karen Lincoln Michel remembered something Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce President Zach Brandon said at an editorial board meeting a few months back. Brandon said talented people can be a little skittish about moving here because of our winters and that it might be time for locals to start talking differently about winters because, as we know, some of us really do like winter.

It reminds me a little of former mayor and current Wisconsin Bicycle Federation Executive Director Dave Cieslewicz’s quest to end references to Wisconsin and other upper Midwest states as the Rust Belt. Too often we fall back on such references out of familiarity, or laziness. We don’t think about the negative connotations of what we say. But words matter when a region is trying to craft an image and position that stands out from the rest of the world. And let’s face it; we have something much of the rest of the world does not: winter.

First of all, the other three seasons would not be what they are, the glorious, much-celebrated, eagerly-anticipated celebrations of natural beauty, recreation and parties, without winter. Indeed it’s the actual transition from fall to winter, and winter to spring that touches our hearts and souls. Winter has qualities and rewards both obvious and hidden. An afternoon of skiing or snowshoeing, or yes, running or bicycling, offers special pleasures in winter. The environment of invigorating cold temperatures, enough snow to turn the city pristinely white, perhaps juxtaposed with a misleadingly warm-appearing sun low in the sky is life-affirming. Winter is soup and fireplaces and books. It’s helping your neighbor get out of the driveway and a stranger get out of a ditch. Winter is slow and deep and mystical. It’s red wine and conversation, but quiet conversation.

But most of all, winter is endings and beginnings, as are we humans, even if we are sometimes afraid to admit it. We need endings to feel a sense of accomplishment and we need beginnings to feel hope. And if you are a talented, creative person looking for opportunities and challenges, for stimulation and growth, you need a sense of accomplishment and you need hope. Madison has that. It’s called winter.

Side notes

Tiniest homeless
It’s hard to imagine anything more heart-wrenching than homeless babies. One recent estimate put the number of homeless babies in Madison at 60. Sixty! Betty Banks and Jeanne Erickson, who among other things cofounded the teen positive behavior program Club TNT with Gaddi Ben Dan, has started a new initiative to provide resources to homeless moms and babies, including a portable bassinette. Portable, for those living out of a car, for example. Heart-wrenching.

Urban orchards
In a year or so, Milwaukee County will be home to the largest urban organic fruit orchard in the United States. Three thousand fruit trees, 4,000 asparagus plants and more than 16,000 strawberry plants will be planted at an orchard in Oak Creek, with the harvest to be distributed through mobile markets in the city’s food deserts. Pretty impressive response to one of the nation’s poorest and most segregated cities.

No hit zones
UW Health recently joined a growing community-wide initiative to stop spanking and hitting by designating American Family’s Children’s Hospital as a “No Hit Zone.” The movement to eliminate corporal punishment has been championed locally by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne who received national recognition when the DA’s office became a No Hit Zone. Stoughton’s city council recently voted to make Stoughton the first No Hit Zone city in Dane County.


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