The dark and cold of winter reminds us of our mortality and the fragility of our survival. These titles explore the winter world through the adaptations living creatures make to survive it.
Naturalist Bernd Heinrich’s book, Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival, focuses on the ways that animals survive the cruelties of extreme cold. Because cold changes the substance most essential to life, water, animals must modify their very biology to survive harsh winters. Heinrich lives in Maine and Vermont and uses these locations to see for himself how his animal neighbors survive. He uncovers nests of overwintering bugs and cozy beaver lodges; he watches fluffed up birds search for food through the snow. His awe at their adaptations is evident in every page.
If reading Winter World makes you want to explore more in depth and technically the way animals survive the winter, try Life in the Cold by Peter Marchand. Marchand takes the concepts poetically meditated upon by Heinrich and takes them apart scientifically. For example, there is an equation that demonstrates the energetic advantage of huddling. (Also suitable for a Valentine’s card for your favorite geek). Marchand also covers plants and their survival mechanisms in the cold. This one’s pretty technical, but if you’re science oriented and a nature lover, you just might love it.
For those of us humans who find winter survival challenging, not for its physical rigors, but rather the mental ones, Winter: a Spiritual Biography is a balm for the soul. This is a collection of essays and poems from around the world that discuss how the barrenness of winter can be life giving to our spirituality. Rather than extolling the coziness of the season, these writers praise the brutality and harshness of the season. John Updike’s essay, “The Cold”, for example appreciates winter for the insight it gives us into our frailty and need for civilization. He wrote the essay for a Brazilian newspaper after a Brazilian friend observed that Brazilians do not understand the cold. Contributions from Rachel Carson, Henry David Thoreau, Annie Dillard and others cover spirituality, nature and philosophy as illuminated by the winter season.