long winter, transforming choice of job, girl in red cap with arms outstretched in a snowy wood, books, reading, spring, long winter's nap, always winter but never Christmas, blitz of blessings, blizzard, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Narnia

The Long Winter

Winters just aren’t what they used to be when I was a kid. But climate change or not, this one has sure dragged on—and in South America we’re dreading more than anticipating the long winter ahead.

I remember so much snow during one childhood winter in Maine that we could jump out the second story windows. The elementary schoolyard was paved only in squares, like a city map, and we played in the “streets” with snow hedges higher than our heads. Now that was a winter!

“Winter was made for warm blankets and big books.” –Unknown

Even in Santiago, they get a skiff of snow once every twenty years or so. Over the twenty years we lived there, we luckily saw it on the ground twice. What a celebration! Of course, snow graces the mountains overlooking the city a good portion of the year, especially after a rain. But here in Coquimbo, winter more resembles a nippy autumn day in New England.

A Long Winter’s Nap

However, after twiddling away most of the past month at home and indoors, we’ve just heard that the second half of April will count as the schoolchildren’s winter break. It’s the equivalent of informing North American kids that October’s fall foliage weekend will now replace their Christmas holidays. The poor students can’t quite see how that works to rejuvenate them for the long winter ahead.

For a fortunate few of you, spring has already sprung, and for most, at least some signs are lurking. As we attempt to encourage others in Chile these days, I’ve often thought of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, and of The Long Winter in particular.

How did the Ingalls family pass the time during that long winter in De Smet, South Dakota, when supply trains couldn’t push through to the town for five or six months? Their breaks consisted of a couple days between week-long blizzards. And they could hardly walk across the street without risking their lives.

Scrounging the plainest of meals presented a daily challenge. No supermarket lines, nor even curbside pickup. The area offered little hunting, so it was mostly potatoes, brown bread made from hand-ground grain, and salt pork until the barrel ran out. Towards the end, the only thing that kept them alive was the wheat they could beg, borrow, and all-but-expropriate from their neighbors.

Nobody could get out to their farms in the countryside. Nobody shoveled more than their front doors–not worth it. And in that barren, treeless land, Laura helped her pa weave “logs” out of hay…which took only the edge off the cold.

Winter Blitz of Blessing

The other sisters did whatever handcrafts they had materials for—braiding rag-rugs, crocheting lace. In the evenings, when the light was poor, the girls recited poetry and Bible verses or sang to the accompaniment of Pa’s fiddle until his fingers froze on the strings.

The Ingalls were really, REALLY cut off from the world during that long winter. I don’t know about you, but just musing about their situation as I skimmed through the book again makes me appreciate ALL the blessings we have.

Certainly not with the intention to guilt us, but to flood us with gratitude for a comfortable home, plenty of food, and an almost limitless supply of online shopping and entertainment. Not even to mention modern communication miracles.

The Ingalls girls didn’t enjoy libraries or e-readers at their fingertips either. They circled through the same three or four books over and over. You have to award them the prize for contentment with what they had. I think too of Anne of Green Gables, my childhood heroine. She didn’t have a lot, but who cared? She could roam the globe in her imagination.

“A happy life is not built up of tours abroad and pleasant holidays, but…in one long continuous chain of little joys, little whispers from the spiritual world, and little gleams of sunshine on our daily work.” –Edward Wilson

I find myself remembering the good old days in Chiloé Island when my own reading resources were almost as skimpy as Laura’s and Anne’s. Like them, I turned to storytelling during the winter evenings. My first book, Destiny at Dolphin Bay, was born out of that period—and it too features a long winter, post-earthquake.

Always Winter…

…but never Christmas, lamented the inhabitants of Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, another children’s classic. The White Witch had placed the land under the curse of a decades-long winter. But the Lion eventually broke the spell.

You don’t have to be a kid to love “kid lit.” Many years after my childhood, I first met Aslan, Bilbo Baggins, Laura Ingalls, and Winnie-the-Pooh within the pages of books shared with my own children. (Can you believe I never visited Pooh’s Enchanted Wood until I was an adult?)

Then, in my 50’s, I was delighted to reconnect with old friends such as nerdy, loveable Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time and independent Kit Tyler in The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Children’s books, they say, give you a clue to who you are, what you dream of, and who you’ll be “when you grow up.”

So what book gave you most joy as a child? It demonstrates what resonates with you. During this long winter, let’s have fun rediscovering some of those old favorites.

And thank the Lord, spring always comes.


  1. Oh, I loved Gift from the Mikado by Elizabeth P. Fleming and David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd! I actually still have original copies of both. And yes, thank the Lord for Spring, both figuratively and literally!

    1. How wonderful that you still have your childhood books–I don’t, for the most part, and am sorry about that! Don’t know the books you mention…will have to investigate… What do they say about your personality and dreams? 🙂

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