Grit Blogs > The Daily Commute

White Christmas Magic

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief


Tags: farm, wildlife, family,

I'll admit it, I like snow. I like snow on the ground at Christmas. I like to spend time out in that snow. It's like magic to me.

When I was a kid, up in North Dakota, snow meant that we could build great forts of the frozen stuff and toss icy missiles at one another; it also meant we could build snowmen or Jackalopes -- magical creatures complete with antlers shaped from branches we collected from the lilac thicket. Snow also meant that hikes on the Missouri River bluffs with my entire family, or down on the wooded bottoms with just my dad, would be especially fun because of all the animal tracks.

White Christmas in Bismarck, North Dakota

One particularly white Christmas season, the family nursery business was closed and my dad was off for several days in a row. One of those days he took me for a hike through the riverine forest along the Missouri River, south of Bismarck. By then, I could recognize deer tracks, rabbit tracks, and an assortment of smaller rodent tracks and snow tunnels. What I wasn't prepared for that day was to see the largest rabbit tracks I had ever experienced -- I was not yet 5 years old. I recall spying the tracks and being amazed at their size -- dad didn't seem too impressed. I concluded that rabbit tracks of that size could be made by a single creature: the Easter Bunny. In fact I was so secure with that conclusion that it took me more years than normal to accept that the Easter Bunny was a myth.

That same particularly white Christmas hike was memorable for a bunch of other reasons. I was impressed with the fact that at lunchtime my dad stopped, gathered a few handfuls of Burr Oak branches and created a fire with matches and tinder he pulled from the pocket of his bright red, cotton-shelled parka. But that trick was nothing compared with the thermos of hot chocolate and package of hotdogs and buns that appeared from another of the parka's pockets.

We sat on a log and roasted dogs, using only jackknife-sharpened sticks and the buns themselves as utensils. We didn't talk much during that snowy repast although I remember thinking my dad's red parka was magic because cool stuff just kept coming out of its pockets. Upon reflection, I think the magic was simply in the pure, unadulterated father-son moments we spent together.

Years later as a young adult and a not-so-young adult I spent several white Christmas seasons in Wisconsin on a pair of cross-country skis with a tent and other camping gear strapped to my back. My dad joined me on one of those excursions. We saw plenty of animal tracks that year. We chuckled about the Easter Bunny evidence I saw back in North Dakota and concluded that the tracks were created by a Jackrabbit; those tracks really weren't that big after all. In spite of brutal sub-zero temperatures on that trip, there was plenty of magic in gliding for miles silently through the wilderness.

A winter storm warning  is in effect for my part of Kansas this Christmas Eve day -- there are similar warnings over much of the region. I know that many folks are anxious about travelling. I'm lucky because I get to spend the next few days at my Osage County farm. I am hoping for a white Christmas and the magic the day will bring.


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

hank will_2
12/30/2009 2:44:31 PM

Hey Paul -- Thanks for sharing that memory. It is interesting indeed how some of those moments remain palpable for decades. Happy New Year to you! Thanks for the kind words, KC. I feel your snowbound pain, but when you grow up, as I did, in the frozen, snowy north, you go crazy if you let the snow get to you. :) I swear I'm not crazy ...


kc compton_2
12/29/2009 12:08:25 PM

Very nice, Hank! Of course, now that it's five days hence and some of us are still functionally snowed in, the magic is wearing just a smidge thin. At least I can get out on the road sufficiently to get to work and to the grocery store. But as long as my cat can only stick his head out the pet door, then glare at me accusingly, I think the snow is just too deep. ~kc


paul gardener
12/28/2009 5:35:45 PM

Great memories Hank. Don't you love those vivid images that, though they may not be there any other time of the year, pop into our heads fresh as if they'd happened yesterday when the time is right? To this day cold apples remind me of my dad pulling bags of them from his parka pockets while we rode the ski lifts on my winter breaks. He always seemed to have some in there, but come to think of it, I never saw him cut and bag any? Maybe they just grew there. Happy new year! Paul~