“Toward the end of the annual confinement in winter’s box, you orient yourself to the snow depth, the height of the sun at midday, and the outside thermometer by measuring in your mind when you’ll be able to take an ice-free walk.” — Dana Wilde
Winter. That period of time when one is both cold and desperately needing to see the sun. And when living in Maine you experience those two things even more. But as Dana Wilde points out in his new book, “Winter — Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods,” his walks within nature and the thoughts he has while doing it reveal there is much more to a Maine winter than meets the eye.
Wilde, a former college professor, newspaper editor and Fulbright scholar, is the author of five books and writes the Backyard Naturalist column that runs regularly in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel. Wilde lives in Troy.
To spend any time in nature is a blessing. To spend that time and have nature nurture one’s thoughts is a completely different experience. Wilde has been doing this a long time. This new book follows trails he blazed in 2016 with the publication of “Summer to Fall.” Both books are walks taken with Wilde as nature does what nature does. It’s that simple.
The 52 essays span November through March. Wilde observes much and sometimes very little, which one could argue is what winter is all about. They would be wrong. The season is a journey whether one is out in it or snuggled in warmth looking out through a window — or reading any one of the essays in this book.
I found many essays directly speaking to me — proof of the power good, concise writing can have on a reader. In “Tamaracks,” Wilde placed me under the boughs of a tamarack, and I watched as this tree told of one season’s end and another’s beginning. “While the world closes down in November, beauty knells up through their branches on the edge of bogs and winter. It’s almost a religious paradox. Those gold-needled steeples steering skyward, like a perennial Dome of the Rock in the northeast forest.”
“The Winter Sky” buoyed my affinity for the Maine night sky that I, too, have written about in the past. A night sky reveals plenty, especially in winter. “In a way the iciness of deep winter lives in the idea of ‘north.’ It’s where the cold comes from, and certain stars reflect it year round, especially Polaris, which marks almost exactly true north. Even in summer it looks bluish-white and icy up there. Who knows which came first, the cold white star or the cold white apprehension of inevitable winter.”
And in “An Inconvenient Winter,” about the record snow that fell in 2015, Wilde not only reflects on what we remember from that winter, but he also uses it as a moment to teach. “Although it seemed unbelievable at the time, that snow — that unusually huge lot of it — disappeared, as always, into summer. The rising seas, temperatures, droughts, Category 5 hurricanes, and wildfires to come will not.”
Taken as a whole these essays reveal a season that has changed significantly from the winters experienced a generation or two ago. No doubt the climate is changing rapidly and will continue to do so based on what the experts have been saying. This reality is borne out by Wilde’s insightful attention to detail and his pursuit of supporting information. Still, for me, the beauty of this book lies in the pure emotion it elicits when a winter’s transition is revealed by both the environment and those that inhabit it.
Wilde paints in words a winter splendor that can be contemplated. And in the process of doing so, the reader learns a lot from the myriad of information gleaned from its pages.
Wilde makes clear there is much to learn if you do the work, and he has. Any season by itself is a time sacred by all accounts because it is only experienced once a year. This book clearly is a result of that essence felt by Wilde, and the reader can plainly experience it, too. It’s as if one is walking on a winter morning through a snow-laden trail, heavy in breath, cold — with the likes of Henry David Thoreau on your right and David Attenborough on your left.
“Winter — Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods”
By Dana Wilde
North Country Press, 2021, softcover, $17.95