Roach: Winter is coming

We are entering a Wisconsin winter that promises to be unlike any we have ever experienced
people huddled up up next to a fire in the snow

The election has ended, but our work is not done. Now we must face the guest who will not depart. For most of us, COVID-19 arrived last March. We hoped its visit would be brief. But instead it has moved in with us, taking no hint that it has long outlasted its welcome. Try as we might, we cannot usher it to the door.

To make things worse, we are entering a Wisconsin winter that promises to be unlike any we have ever experienced, for it will be the Winter of the Scourge. Moving indoors has caused the virus to percolate and infect more and more of us. Some of us have just been unlucky. And some of us have been defiantly stupid, blindly willing to accept whack scientific theories from amateurs rather than scientists, and suffered the attendant symptoms of fever, dry cough, closing airways or worse.

So the challenge before us is how to weather Plague Winter without the help of the distractions that have historically offered us succor through this season: bars, restaurants, concerts, ball games, church functions and family gatherings.

How can we survive this winter without the help of the social tools we have always employed?
The answer might come from our Scandinavian brethren, who endure winters much like ours. The Norwegians call it “koselig.” It means a sense of communal coziness that embraces winter, as opposed to dreading it.

My family clan marshalled the koselig vibe last March — the most ruthless month because it hints at warmth without delivering it. Our adult children and their significant others quarantined in our home, which meant taking precautions. Our back porch faces the morning sun, so that was the location for our bundled and distanced outdoor morning coffee klatches. Late afternoons brought hillbilly happy hours in the driveway with an array of lawn chairs, winter coats and blankets. But here’s the thing. Coronavirus avoidance resulted in our family having far more coffees and happy hours together than before the pandemic. The novelty of it was fun and became a daily ritual. Could it be that COVID-19 has already taught us how to koselig?

Many of us already practice koselig. Rather than flee to Fort Meyers, Florida, a lot of Wisconsinites can’t wait to get out their skis, ice fishing huts, snowmobiles and fat tire bikes. And so it will be this year.

Personally, I’ve been preparing for Plague Winter. I bought an insulated onesie with a full zip front, big enough for me to step into fully dressed, so I can waltz outside with minimal prep or style. We have ample firewood. And I’m hatching plans for bonfires with friends on our back porch to replace our favorite pub. Maybe get a projection screen and watch the Badgers games (if and when they play again). And wearing a mask won’t be a problem because we Wisconsin folk wear them all winter long.
If I were a smart man, I would have purchased stock in the companies that make snowmobile suits and patio heaters in anticipation of a big winter outdoor social season. But I’m not, so I didn’t.

I’m hoping some Madison restaurant folks keep serving outside. It’s done at ski resorts, so why can’t we do it here? And all of this is doable if we heed the Norwegians who are fond of reminding us, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”

And let’s be honest. If there is a people and culture who can openly mock Plague Winter, it is hearty Wisconsin folk. We need look no further than the stands at Lambeau Field or our tradition of erecting the head of Lady Liberty on a frozen Lake Mendota. It is in our genetic code to mock the cold. Unfortunately COVID-19 will also require being patient, which Americans suck at.

This past summer saw the biggest increase in rounds of golf played by Americans in at least the past 20 years, as it is a COVID-19 friendly activity, allowing you to be with friends outdoors at a distance for an extended period of time. So surely this winter we are bound to see more sledding, snowman building, cross-country skiing and simple winter walking than we have ever seen before.

After an era of divisiveness, it might even come to pass that our nation will finally accept the reality of the virus and have leadership that unites us to fight it. And the reason for that is simple: Despite the cold, snow, ice, politics and the virus, we long to be with each other — because we are human.

John Roach, a Madison-based television producer, writes this column monthly. Reach him at

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