Enjoying nature's silver and gold

The Nature Call: Winter Olympics urge writer to get outside

A young cross country skier gets out for a little exercise, inspired by the Winter Olympics and a little snow. (John Hanson/community contributor)
A young cross country skier gets out for a little exercise, inspired by the Winter Olympics and a little snow. (John Hanson/community contributor)

Editor’s note: John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board.

By John Hanson, community contributor

The Olympics inspire.

For snow enthusiasts like myself the Winter Games are a double treat, the pageantry of the Games meets the snowy activities I love.

Our hit-or-miss Iowa winters, lately mostly miss, have made enjoying the winter sports too dependent on vicariousness rather than taking to our own trails and mimicking the heroes and heroines on skis.

I’m drawn to the silver medal — it’s more beautiful than the gold. The ice, the snow, the heavy clouds of winter seem to favor silver. When the light is just right on a freshly groomed trail, the silver flash in the tracks can streak on past the next hill.

A rare window of snow and cold this February opened a window of opportunity to take to the woods and prairies by ski. Part of the reward was getting to see that silver in the trail.

According to the State Climatologist, we average 32 inches of snow a year. That is a pretty thin amount to sustain winter pastimes. That is a pretty big amount if you endure a daily commute. Dreams take very little snow to endure. Dreaming is easier in Duluth, for example. They average more than 70 inches of snow.

The Climatologist’s report for 2017 said it was the least snowiest year since 2006. This year started very cold but an accompanying snow cover was weak. Iowa can pile up snow, the winter of 1960-1961 yielded a state average of 59 inches. The skis that winter might have been as much a necessity as a pleasure.


There’s a bias to gold: the ripe kernels of corn, the August fields of Solidago, the color of the Hawkeye. Gold is the standard by which mankind lives. At the Olympics, the gold medal is really the only one people count. Americans earned nine gold medals.

Next season, as 2018 nears its end, I’ll eagerly await the snow. I will hope for a silvery snow to blanket over the golds of Iowa, at least for a little while. I’ll cry “Free Silver!” when the first flakes fall. Because I can’t live by the gold standard alone.

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.



As winter relinquishes its grasp on Eastern Iowa, we will soon see our lakes and rivers open to a plethora of colorful ducks.As many as 24 regular duck species will potentially dabble in shallow puddles, while others will be divin ...

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