News and Tribune

February 11, 2013

CUMMINS: The heart needs warming in winter, too

Local columnist

— Skin doctors say sunshine is dangerous. That’s why I stay north under cloud cover during winters. Head doctors say gloom will depress you. Jet-stream trackers say this world is undergoing climate change. You never know from one day to the next whether to coat yourself with sunscreen or goose-feathers. Either God is trying to tell us to wise up, or else man thinks he is some type of God, and considers fossil fuels a blessing. Why don’t we do something about the weather before it does all these things to us? Should we pray, or insist Congress conduct weather hearings? 

What irks me is my friends, who go south during winters, send Florida oranges to me as if I’m catching scurvy. These weakling sunshine worshipers also send sneering get-well cards. “It was 84 here today as the waves gently lapped over the white sand, soothing our feet as we sipped cold drinks before barbecuing fresh shrimp during which the pelicans and seagulls darted to-and-fro. To keep warm, we’ll migrate north when the birds do and see you then.”  

What’s an elder do when the wind-chill factor ices him to the bone? Ever wonder why grandma bundles up, or why grandpa wears long-johns with buttons front and back? In the old days, long-johns were a one-piece undergarment with the men’s having two buttons at the front crouch area and five in the back below the waist for quickness when he had to go.  

It’s not that bad now because gramps have other things to warm them. The thermostat replaced the fireplace and insulation replaced the old newspapers used for stuffing cracks. When grandpa says, “My feet are cold,” loving children fill hot-water bottles for him.

Modern conveniences warm older, thin-blooded bodies that get daily exercise sitting and twiddling their thumbs. It’s lonely during a long-winter lock up, so you find a new hobby — watching temperatures drop on the Weather Channel. Layered fleece keep our outer bodies warm, but during this hibernation, our hearts desperately need a bit of warming, too.

Since friends moved south, or in seclusion like you are, you grind out the days waiting until the warm sun breaks through. To fill time you look out the window and watch the weather change. A few weeks ago, I noticed a new friend perched out there on top of a tall holly tree. It was loaded with clusters of bright-red berries spaced near perfectly amidst the shiny, dark-green leaves. That tree, contrasting with the long black trunks and limbs of surrounding taller trees, is one spot of cheer that refuses to disappear. From my second-story window, the top of the holly tree stands about 12-feet away where Mr. Mockingbird sits.

Although he does go roam, I think that tree is his home, because he never fails to return to his favorite place. When I go to that window several times each day, he’s usually there, and when he’s not, give him a little time. The best time one has is at his home. That must be why he returns there, and so do I.

From my window, I see him, but his window is a wider expanse, unrestrained by the barriers we place on ourselves. I wonder if he wonders. What does he know, and what do I? He seems to be contemplating his base while surveying the surrounding space, seeing a different world with eyes that penetrate. What does he see, and what do I? With confidence, he’s proud of his vast place. I see winter’s blend, revealing that soon will appear an imminent warming trend.   

My holly tree tells many stories, the one of harvest in late winter when the robins return. They gather 200 or more, to strip the holly tree of its fruit ripened during the coldest days.

The story my robins tell is a lesson we can learn. They gather on the dormant grass and stark branches nearby. Then 10 or more at a time fly to the holly tree to take their fill. Once satisfied, the 10 robins glide away and wait as 10 more take their place.

It’s a communal affair, devoid of anxious greed, but instilled with patience and confidence there is enough to sustain them all. What do they know? They understand nature’s call, put in place by the power, which turns the cold into spring showers, then the flowers, a circle of renewal that is the reward. 

— Contact Terry Cummins at