Trying to enjoy a harsh winter

This cold winter weather has a way of wearing us down and making us all stir crazy. So we need to dig deep and find ways to appreciate Ohio’s most challenging season.

Perhaps the best we can do is buck up our faith by simply observing the most desolate and void days of our lives, such as the dead of this winter, are forever pregnant with hopes of rebirth come springtime. It’s beautifully symbolic.

Right on cue, early one morning last week I heard cardinals chipping and chirping away for positions in the neighborhood bushes. The male birds start jockeying for prime nest sites weeks before the actual nesting begins. It made me stop and smile for a minute before heading off to work. It was a reminder that spring was around the corner in spite of Punxsutawney Phil’s pessimistic premonition.

Usually, I find it easy to enjoy winter, but this year it was just too cold or maybe I have become too old? Just to prove I’m not too old, I may do the Polar Bear Plunge at Lake Milton again next Saturday. It will be my ninth time (seven in Lake Erie)!

At any rate, this weekend I spent an hour or two looking for rare 12-sided snowflakes. Actually, they are no rarer than four-leafed clovers or shooting stars. But it takes a deliberate effort and some time to look for them. Unfortunately, I failed to find a dodecagon snowflake either last night or this morning, just the usual exquisite hexagonal shapes.

Speaking of frozen water, yesterday morning my sons and I made our annual winter hike around the base of Nelson’s Ledges State Park. This tradition began years ago while admiring beautiful icicles all over buildings in downtown Warren. I wanted to see such beautiful icicles in a more natural environment. That first year I had to drag both boys along, but once they arrived they had a blast.

On our first winter hike, we saw 15- to 20-foot long icicles with at least a 2-foot diameter. It must have been 2006 because the movie “The Chronicles of Narnia” had just come out, and the boys instantly found similarities between the snow-capped cliffs in the film and Nelson’s snowy ledges. That was all it took. Suddenly we were off on a wintry adventure. By the time we arrived at the frozen waterfall, it had transformed into “The Crystal Palace.”

But yesterday the biggest icicles we saw were only a foot in diameter and about 10 feet long. We still had a wonderful time exploring icy caves with transparent stalactites and visited the frozen waterfall. But I had to ruin our fun with my 2 p.m. tax-filing appointment. It was actually good timing for me, because my legs were burning from climbing hills and boulders and scrambling in and out of slick caves for two hours. I knew I would pay for it later.

But yesterday’s wintry fun was just getting started. When I returned from the tax man, my seventh-grade daughter asked if she and her four friends could go sled-riding and then hang out at our house. So I dutifully got the hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies ready to go, just as my mother did when I was a boy.

We loaded up the van with sleds and headed out … to the end of the driveway. “Where are we going?” I gave them a choice.

“Perkins Park!”

“No – Packard Park!”

Imagine a van full of screaming 13-year-old girls arguing about where to go sled-riding.

“OK! OK! We’ll go to both of them!” I shouted.

The enthusiasm at Packard Park was palpable, considering two of the girls had never been sled-riding. One of the girls was not dressed warmly enough, but she exclaimed after about half a dozen times down the hill, “This is amazing! I absolutely hate snow, but I’m actually having a good time.”

We loaded up the van again and found Perkins Park dimly lit to match the midnight blue, starry sky, Trumbull County Courthouse, the Kinsman House, and First Presbyterian Church.

At one point I caught myself dreaming of mother’s hot cocoa and just enjoying the whole scene. I stood still at the top of Perkins’ hill by the amphitheater, and overheard the dead, dark and bitter cold winter night being interrupted by the joyful voices of children playing.

Herman is a Warren resident. Email him at