In Minnesota, we have two seasons... winter and roadwork.
Long summer days transition abruptly to an icy cold winter that persists until mid-May. In contrast, the solstice marks the astronomical start of winter in the North, and coincides with Judeo-Christian celebrations.
To this biologist, the marking of a calendar year, and transition from a time of plenty to winter blight, tests the tenacity of life. While ritualized competition for mates in spring ultimately defines each individual’s Darwinian fitness, all competitors must first endure winter’s deprivation. Millions of reproductive seasons followed by bleak periods of winter fasts have sculpted the varied anatomies and physiologies we see in life today. To survive a winter and compete for mates in spring is to thrive where most have failed.
Saturday December 21st was the winter solstice. Our small family celebrated another good year at a lodge overlooking Lake Superior. We spent this first day of winter snowshoeing with dogs through waist-high drifts of powder. Covered from head to toe and armed with chemical heat packs, I worked the bleak Lake Superior landscape as a way to mark another astronomical transition. Stooping awkwardly around frigid waters, my ape-like physique with its naked body was inconsistent with the near-arctic temperatures of the day. I was more than cognizant of the irony in this “picture.” Adapted to tropical and sub-tropical climates, my survival is the product of millions of reproductive seasons and selective forces that has sculpted the cognition and social structure that allows me to thrive and be an artist where no other ape could possibly survive.
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