Friday, February 19, 2016

Winter Wonderland

To the modern person in the West, winter is both a difficult time and a delight.  Snow can be beautiful as it coats the trees.



(This is actually a color picture, although you might not know it.)

Snuggling inside where it's warm, or engaging in vigorous outdoor activities like skiing, sledding, skating, or building a snowman are happy events.  But they are happy because we have a warm place to go (plus hot chocolate).  We would think of them differently if inside were as cold as outside.

Medieval people certainly saw the beauty in snow-bedecked branches and appreciated being inside where it was warm, but when open fires and animal heat were the only sources of heat (as discussed more here), it was hard to keep the temperature up.

But they had advantages we do not have.  In the modern world, you are expected to get to work, almost certainly by driving.  A snowstorm has to be pretty severe to shut everything down.  So drivers have to make their way along slippery roads, hoping they don't end up in a pileup or in a ditch, assuming they don't just get mired in a drift.  Snowplow drivers have to keep plowing and salting to try to keep businesses open and cars moving.  (Thought to ponder:  How do the snowplow drivers get to work, given that no one will have plowed?)

Medieval people would have traveled by foot or horseback in snowy weather, or, more sensibly, just stayed home.  In Scandinavia, people would ski to get places (cross-country, not downhill).  For much of the population, winter was a time when there was little work to do, other than taking care of the animals, so it actually was possible to stay in bed when modern people would be out scraping ice off their cars and hoping they had enough tire tread.

A real concern for people in the Middle Ages was that the food not run out.  In the modern world fresh vegetables and meat are available year round.  In the medieval world, even for the aristocracy, there was always a question whether the grain for flour (for bread) would last until the next harvest.  Dried beans or lentils, onions, and the occasional piece of sausage might lose their appeal but they were better than not eating.  One could always look forward to the first dandelion greens.

Modern "snowbirds" who go south to avoid winter weather miss the beauty of snow.  Many medieval people would have liked to join them.

A final thought.  In the won "Winter Wonderland," there's a line, "Later on, we'll conspire, as we dream by the fire."  Would perspire make more sense?

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