A Winter’s Wager

by Kayann Short

In the winter, she sees the destruction best. The outline of the trees against the graying sky reveals the bareness of this land out west. It will all come down to water, she knows, and that’s a shrinking thing. 

When the earth is winter barren with no green in sight, she worries. This century-old farm was built on arid land from which no crops can grow without moisture directly from the sky or fed through old ditches off the mountain reservoir. Snow is a placeholder for the water needed all season. If it doesn’t snow this winter, or falls as spring rain the ground won’t hold, this place will become a desert. There’s no hiding from the sun. Without the slow melt of mountain snow to keep the reservoir filled, crops will wither and die. And then the cycle repeats itself as farmers wager on winter to replenish the stores.

Or what used to be winter. This December is the warmest and driest on record. Walking the land, she sees wild apples still hanging in the trees. They withered on branches without dropping, a freak act of nature wrought by the long, hot fall. If December is the new September, how will anything adapt? She can’t adapt. Lovely weather, people say, remembering solstice blizzards dropping feet of snow in years not so long past. While teenagers wear shorts and t-shirts instead of parkas, she counts the trade-off as deficit. Nothing’s unseasonable when seasons start to shift. In the contest between an ever more erratic climate and sheer hard work, climate will always win. 

But in the midst of winter’s changes, one constant remains: the shortening of light and lengthening of darkness until the turn-around time brings longer days again. In the warmth of axe-hewn timber and candlelight from precious bees, the solstice on this farm is marked by ritual near the woodstove as trees cast long shadows across the moon’s snowy path. With wine grown on this fertile ground, the farmers raise a toast to the next season, another for the community that supports them, one more for the fields and all who sow them, and a last for the promise they most hope to keep: they will work, and they will wait, as the land gives again.

photo credit: Scott Ymker, Unsplash