I've reached the point in the winter months where I'm ready to be done with winter. The groundhog saw his shadow, but I live in North Dakota, so six more weeks of winter and spring being right around the corner seem like roughly the same thing. Our power lines are thick with frost from what feels like days on end of fog and drear, and the power has flicked off four times this morning — three just while I've been writing this column.
This was the point in the winters of my childhood when I would dream of green grass and softball practice. Of course, growing up in south-central Montana meant that once in a while the snow would melt and I could throw pop flies to myself in the yard even in February.
We're nowhere near playing ball here right now, even though it has, on average, been a mild winter. So I've been looking for things to brighten up the days. Sometimes it's just the fact that the daylight is starting to stretch beyond late afternoon and that the relatively mild conditions have allowed us to take our nightly excursions to care for the barn cats without bundling up as much as in some winters.
But, again, it's North Dakota. The brightening up usually has to come from somewhere other than what's happening outside.
As I look through the photos I've taken in the past couple months, I find many reasons to smile. A fifth birthday party. Feisty cats. Kids cheering at a basketball game. The undeniable beauty of the frost on the trees that came from that same fog that seems to drag me down.
But a couple photos make me feel content in a far different way — photos of thank-you cards to my daughter's 4-H club.
In the fall, when the club was still meeting mostly by Zoom, the kids decided to spend a good chunk of the money they raised in the past year on community service projects at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Because of COVID-19, the club members didn't get to have the big Christmas party they've had in past years, when they go swimming and have pizza and have a grand old time. They're still not certain what the fair will look like or any of the other competitions to which they usually look forward. But they were able to do something for others, and they embraced the idea.
For Thanksgiving, a small group of kids and parents met up after school and packaged meals for some folks in the community who seemed likely to have to spend the holiday home alone for safety's sake. At Christmas, a group met up and put together bowls of snacks and activities, again for people who may not be getting to do the same social activities as usual.
The club provided these gifts to probably somewhere around 50 people in the towns in our area. But they provided themselves something, too — the gift of learning how thinking of others can lift your own spirit. With every delivery my daughter made, she seemed to not only get happier herself but also grow in confidence that what she does can affect other people.
The thank-you cards the club received were a gift to the kids, too. The cards showed them that what they do can have a positive effect on others and that they are valued members of their communities.
So if the winter drear is getting you down, think about how you can impact someone else's life. Maybe it's a gift or a phone call or a thank-you card. Be the sunshine that we all would like to see.
Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's content manager. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-595-0425.