Gateway to the Classics: Winter by Dallas Lore Sharp
Winter by  Dallas Lore Sharp

Notes and Suggestions


A S in The Fall of the Year,  so here in Winter,  the second volume of this series, I have tried by story and sketch and suggestion to catch the spirit of the season. In this volume it is the large, free, strong, fierce, wild soul of Winter which I would catch, the bitter boreal might that, out of doors, drives all before it; that challenges all that is wild and fierce and strong and free and large within us, till the bounding red blood belts us like an equator, and the glow of all the tropics blooms upon our faces and down into the inmost of our beings.

Winter within us means vitality and purpose and throbbing life; and without us in our fields and woods it means widened prospect, the storm of battle, the holiness of peace, the poetry of silence and darkness and emptiness and death. And I have tried throughout this volume to show that Winter is only a symbol, that death is only an appearance, that life is everywhere, and that everywhere life dominates even while it lies buried under the winding-sheet of the snow.

"A simple child,

That lightly draws its breath,

What should it know of death?"

Why, this at least, that the winter world is not dead; that the cold is powerless to destroy; that life flees and hides and sleeps, only to waken again, forever stronger than death—fresher, fairer, sweeter for its long winter rest.

But first of all, and always, I have tried here to be a naturalist and nature-lover, pointing out the sounds and sights, the things to do, the places to visit, the how and why, that the children may know the wild life of winter, and through that knowledge come to love winter for its own sake.

And they will love it. Winter seems to have been made especially for children. They do not have rheumatism. Let the old people hurry off down South, but turn the children loose in the snow. The sight of a snowstorm affects a child as the smell of catnip affects a cat. He wants to roll over and over and over in it. And he should roll in it; the snow is his element as it is a polar bear cub's.

I love the winter, and so do all children—its bare fields, empty woods, flattened meadows, its ranging landscapes, its stirless silences, its tumult of storms, its crystal nights with stars new cut in the glittering sky, its challenge, defiance, and mighty wrath. I love its wild life—its birds and animals; the shifts they make to conquer death. And then, out of this winter watching, I love the gentleness that comes, the sympathy, the understanding! One gets very close to the heart of Nature through such understanding.

Chapter I

Hunting the Snow

"It must be a lovely place in the summer!" the dull and irritating often say to me, referring to my home in the country. What they mean is, of course, "How wretched a place the country is in winter!" But that attitude toward winter grows less and less common. We are learning how to enjoy the winter; and it is my hope that this volume may distinctly contribute to the knowledge that makes for that joy. Behind such joy is love, and behind the love is understanding, and behind the understanding is knowledge.

The trouble with those who say they hate winter is a lack of knowledge. They do not know the winter; they never tramp the woods and fields in winter; they have no calendar of the rare, the high-festival days of winter.

Such a day is the one of this opening chapter—"Hunting the Snow." And the winter is full of them; as full as the summer, I had almost said! The possibilities of winter for nature-study, for tramps afield, for outdoor sport—for joy and health and knowledge and poetry are quite as good as those of summer. Try it this winter. Indeed, let the coldest, dullest, deadest day this winter challenge you to discover to yourself and to your pupils some sight, some sound, some happening, or some thought of the world outside that shall add to their small understanding, or touch their ready imaginations, or awaken their eager love for Nature.

And do not let the rarer winter days pass (such as the day that follows the first snow-fall) without your taking them or sending them a-hunting the snow, else you will fail in duty as grievously as you would if you allowed a child to finish his public-school education without hearing of Bunker Hill.

In reading this first chapter lay emphasis upon: (1) the real excitement possible without a gun in such a hunt; (2) the keener, higher kind of joy in watching a live animal than in killing it; (3) the unfairness of hunting to kill; (4) the rapid extinction of our wild animals, largely caused by guns; (5) the necessity now for protection—for every pupil's doing all he can to protect wild life everywhere.

Chapter II

The Turkey Drive

This herding and driving of turkeys to market is common in other sections of the country, particularly in Kentucky. I have told the story (as told to me by one who saw the flock) in order to bring out the force of instinct and habit, and the unreasoning nature of the animal mind as compared with man's.

Chapter III


There is a three-pronged point to this chapter: (1) the empty birds' nests are not things to mourn over. The birds are safe and warm down south; and they will build fresh, clean nests when they get back. Teach your children to see things as they are—the wholesomeness, naturalness, wisdom, and poetry of Nature's arrangement. The poets are often sentimental; and most sentimentality is entirely misplaced. (2) The nest abandoned by the bird may be taken up by the mouse. The deadest, commonest of things may prove full of life and interest upon close observation. Summer may go; but winter comes and brings its own interests and rewards. So does youth go and old age come. There is nothing really abandoned in nature—nothing utterly lacking interest. (3) A mouse is not a Bengal tiger; but he is a whole mouse and in the completeness of his life just as large and interesting as the tiger. If the small, the common, the things right at hand, are not interesting, it is not their fault—not the mouse's fault—but ours.

Chapter IV

Things To See This Winter

If you have at hand "The Fall of the Year," read again the suggestions in the chapter on "Things To See This Fall," making use of this chapter as you did of that (1) as the object of a field excursion—or of several excursions until all the things suggested here have been seen; (2) as a test of the pupil's actual study of nature; for there is scarcely a city child who cannot get far enough into nature (though he get no farther than the city park), and often enough to see most of the things pointed out in this chapter; (3) as suggestions for further study and observation by the pupils—things that they have seen which might be added to these ten here, and written about for composition work in English.

Chapter V

Christmas in the Woods

Let this chapter be read very close to the Christmas recess, when your children's minds are full of Christmas thoughts. This unconventional turn to the woods, this thought of Christmas among the animals and birds, might easily be the means of awakening many to an understanding of the deeper, spiritual side of nature-study—that we find in Nature only what we take to her; that we get back only what we give. It will be easy for them to take the spirit of Christmas into the woods because they are so full of it; and so it will be easy for them to feel the woods giving it back to them—the very last and best reward of nature-study. No, don't be afraid that they are incapable of such lessons, of such thoughts and emotions. Some few may be; but no teacher ever yet erred by too much faith in the capacity of her pupils for the higher, deeper things.

Chapter VI


Read to the pupils Emerson's poem "The Titmouse," dwelling on the lines,—

"Here was this atom in full breath,

Hurling defiance at vast death," etc.

and the part beginning,—

" 'T is good will makes intelligence,"

letting the students learn by heart the chickadee's little song,—

"Live out of doors

In the great woods, on prairie floors," etc.

Poem and chapter ought mutually to help each other. Read the chapter slowly, explaining clearly as you go on, making it finally plain that this mere "atom" of life is greater than all the winter death, no matter how "vast."

Chapter VII

Things To Do This Winter

Make a point of going into the winter woods and fields, taking the pupils as often as possible with you. It may be impossible for your city children to get the rare chance of glare ice; but don't miss it if it comes.

This is the time to start your bird-study; to awaken sympathy and responsibility in your pupils by teaching them to feed the birds; to cultivate cheerfulness and the love of "hardness" in them by breasting with them a bitter winter gale for the pure joy of it. Use the suggestions here for whatever of resourcefulness and hardiness you can cultivate in the girls as well as in the boys.

Chapter VIII

The Missing Tooth

I believe this to be one of the most important chapters in the volume, dark and terrible as its lesson may appear. But grim, dark death itself is not so dark as fear of the truth. If you teach nothing else, by precept and example, teach love for the truth—for the whole truth in nature as everywhere else. Winter is a fact; let us face it. Death is a fact; let us face it; and by facing it half of its terror will disappear; nay more, for something of its deep reasonableness and meaning will begin to appear, and we shall be no more afraid. The all  of this is beyond a child, as it is beyond us; but the habit of looking honestly and fearlessly at things must be part of a child's education, as later on it must be the very sum of it.

Great tact and fine feeling must be exercised if you happen to have among the scholars one of the handicapped—one lacking any part, as the muskrat lacked—lest the application be taken personally. But let the lesson be driven home: the need every boy and girl has for a strong, full-membered body,—even for every one of his teeth,—if he is to live at his physical best.

Chapter IX

The Peculiar 'Possum

Make this chapter, as far as you can, the one in the volume for most intensive study. Show the pupils how the study of animal life is connected with geology, tell them of the record of life in the fossils of the rocks, the kinds of strange beasts that once inhabited the earth. Show them again how the study of animals in their anatomy is not the study of one—say of man, but how man and all the mammals, the reptiles, the birds, the fishes, the insects, on and on back to the single-celled amœba, are all related to each other, all links in one long wonder chain of life.

Chapter X

A February Freshet

This chapter and the next go together—this for the lover of wild life, the next for the lover of adventure. The spring freshet is one of the most interesting of the year of days for animal study—better even than the day after the first snowfall. But more than this, let both chapters suggest to you how primitive and elemental the real world is after all; with what cataclysmal forces the seasons are changed. As summer often passes into autumn with a silencing frost that rests like a hush of awe over the land; so winter often gives way to spring with a rush of wind and tidal powers that seem to shake the foundations of the world. To feel these forces, to be a part of all these moods, to share in all these feelings—this, too, is one of the ends of nature-study.

Chapter XII

Things To Hear This Winter

I should like to repeat here the suggestions in "The Fall of the Year" for this corresponding chapter. I will repeat only: "that you are the teacher, not the book. The book is but a suggestion. You begin where it leaves off; you fill out where it is lacking." For these are not all the sounds of winter; indeed they may not be the characteristic sounds in your neighborhood. No matter: the lesson is not this or that sound, but that your pupils learn to listen  for sounds, for the voices of the season, whatever those voices may be in their own particular region. The trouble is that we have ears, and literally hear not, eyes and see not, souls and feel not. Teach your pupils to use their eyes, ears, yes and hearts, and all things else will be added unto them in the way of education.

Chapter XIII

The Last Day of Winter

Do all that you can to teach the signs of the zodiac, the days of the seasons, and all the doings of the astronomical year. All that old lore of the skies is in danger of being lost. Some readers will say: "The author is not consistent! He loves the winter and here he is impatient to be done with it!" Some explanation on your part may be necessary: that the call of the spring is the call of life, a call so loud and strong that all life—human and wild, animal and vegetable,—hears it and is impatient to obey. If possible take your scholars upon a walk at this raw edge of the season when they will feel the chill but also the stirring of life all about them.

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