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Thoughts on a Cold Winter’s Night

February 3, 2017


Another Way for week of February 3, 2017

Thoughts on a Cold Winter’s Night

Ruby is friend from elementary school. I have enjoyed getting to know her a bit again from a distance through Facebook, where she posted this recently:

“I find winter to be the peaceful time I really need—that’s what I love about it. I don’t have to mow or hoe or put up produce any more.”

We may think of shoveling snow and scraping ice (let alone falling on slick sidewalks/steps) as the not-so-peaceful parts of winter, but for many of us, the quiet and calm of a snow covered landscape is indeed very peaceful.

Hutterite writer Linda Maendel, author of Hutterite Diaries lives on the cold stark prairies of Manitoba. For her, winter has to include deep cold and yes, blizzards: Linda wrote recently at her blog, Hutt-Write Voice:

“The temperature’s hovering around -30°C, [-20 for those of us who stick to Fahrenheit] and with the wind chill, that means it feels like -40°C. Yes, extremely cold! But, I still wouldn’t want to live where there is no snow – my winter has to have cold, blizzards and lots of snow.”

She says you get used to the cold, dressing warmly to go out, and enjoying being cozy inside.

Even in parts of North America where there is less change in seasons than Manitoba, Indiana, or Virginia, there are subtle changes during winter.

Being cozy is usually not an option for the many who are homeless. We all know there are myriad reasons why people end up on the streets: poor choices, family disintegration, addictions, mental illness, a streak of bad luck, accidents, a lack of affordable housing. I am grateful for our city’s movable thermal shelter, Open Doors, that operates with the help of churches and the local synagogue and mosque: an interfaith effort.

Besides providing a warm safe place and one hot meal plus breakfast, the program has provided an eye-opening first hand encounter with those who are homeless. In the past I have been struck by how many of those at the shelter appear to be young–ages 21-25. Perhaps some even save up money for a security deposit or first month’s rent by couch surfing or staying at a shelter on coldest nights. Many homeless also manage to hold down jobs—amazingly. As much sickness as our family has had this winter, I cannot imagine having to be sick in a shelter or refugee camp, but of course germs and colds are rampant in those settings.

Those who follow my column regularly may remember that I spent my junior year of college abroad in Barcelona, Spain (and wrote a memoir about that year, called Departure (Herald Press, 1993). Barcelona is of course a timeless and beautiful city on the Mediterranean with basically a mild climate but with cold that seeps deep into your bones in the winters. At that time, most apartments and flats only had space heaters for use during the coldest months of the year. So even in our boarding house, which was once a Catholic nun’s convent, we bundled up with blankets, sweaters and bathrobes while studying because you just couldn’t get warm on coldest days.

I was saddened and shocked to read recently of the approximately 3000 people in Barcelona who are homeless—a phenomenon unknown to me in 1973’s Spain. I’m sure there were homeless people then, but Spain was still under the authoritarian rule of General Francisco Franco. There was little street crime or homelessness because the “Guardia Civil” (wearing their signature tri-cornered hats) or police kept things clean on the streets. Which can be a good thing when you’re a college kid coming home from a late night on the town. We, and our parents, had few worries about physical safety.

At any rate, today Barcelona has a significant problem with homelessness due—as everywhere—to many complicating factors. The article I read was about a small company, “Hidden City Tours,” offering educational tours revealing the “hidden” side of the artsy, flower-lined, medieval city. Its purpose was not all expose or to embarrass anyone, but to offer socially-conscious travelers a chance to see a part of Barcelona they likely wouldn’t see otherwise. It hires some of the homeless as part-time tour guides which brings them a small income.


Whether you enjoy winter or not, or have frozen or flower-lined streets, the problem of affordable housing for all likely won’t just go away. But I encourage all of us to do what we can to explore and help out in ways that go beyond tossing a dollar on the street to someone with a “homeless” sign, and work for long-lasting, far reaching help.

Send any comments to For a free copy of Departure about my year in Spain, send your address to Another Way Media, Box 363, Singers Glen, Va. 22850. Please include $3 or postage stamps to help defray shipping costs.departurebook

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books, most recently Whatever Happened to Dinner. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. I have read Linda Maendel’s book and I’m also in a cold climate now: PA. So you could say I’m in sync. I’m with my sisters and two of us are using space heaters – ha!

    The problem of homelessness weighs on my heart too, so evident in Jacksonville, We do what we can to help the needy, Christ’s command.

    • I know that sometimes those with housing issues flock to warmer cities like you have in Florida or southern California so I’m not surprised the issue is evident in Jacksonsville. And Barcelona for that matter, with a fairly mild climate most of the year. My husband likes to brag about the coldest he’s ever been being north Florida where the homes were not insulated and space heaters did little to warm the air more than 6 feet away. Glad you can get in sync with your sisters even if you have to use space heaters. 🙂 Thanks for checking in from your new blog space.

  2. Unfortunately our Manitoba cities have homeless people as well. I can’t even imagine living on the streets in our bitter cold winters. Every winter we hear of people freezing to death, huddled into some sheltered corner for the night. So Sad!! There are homeless shelters, but apparently not enough for everybody in need. We volunteer at one of these shelters, prepare and serve food to the patrons, who get two meals a day there, and also there’s medical help available if they need it as well.

    Thanks for mentioning my book and my blog, Melodie!

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