The snow keeps piling up outside the window of my office. But my little maple doesn’t seem to mind a bit. Some days it’s bitterly cold. But that’s no problem. Some days the whipping winds chill me to the bone. But the tree doesn’t even flinch. The maple is dormant—just hanging on ‘til spring.
Dormancy in trees is a lot like hibernation in animals. In winter, all the body functions of chipmunks and woodchucks and even some bats really slow down. Their breathing and heart rates are barely detectable, but they never grind to a halt.
Hibernating woodchucks are nourished by a layer of fat they build up in the fall. Similarly, my maple survives on sugary starch that it stored away during the spring and summer. Even on the coldest days of the year, its roots are slowly growing, and it absorbs tiny amounts of water and minerals.
And here’s the cold, hard truth: My maple couldn’t survive without winter’s short, chilly days and long, frigid nights. Its buds won’t open next spring unless they experience a winter chill.
So with that in mind, my tree and I dare Mother Nature to send us her worst winter weather. And as we endure day after day, we’ll remember the words English Romantic poet Percy Shelly wrote almost two centuries ago: “If winter is here, can spring be far behind?”