When I asked my 85 year old friend Jack, a native Vermonter, who split his youth between Burlington and Montgomery whether he thought we were in for a rough winter, he said, “Nope. I think it’s going to be an ‘Open Winter.’”
Now, I’m not a native, but I’ve been a Vermonter by choice for 30 plus years; I’ve worked in Franklin, Chittenden and Washington counties; and I’d never before heard the phrase ‘Open Winter.’
So Jack explained to me that “Open Winter” was a term used by the “old time farmers” to describe the fact that the fields would not be covered in snow and thus had the potential to impact the farm.
Curious about the origins of the phrase, I reached out to the Twitterverse and inquired about its history and meaning from those who’d used the hashtag #OpenWinter in their tweets.
The Billings National Weather Service folks explained that when the ground in Montana was not covered, the soil dried out faster, harming the winter wheat crop. John Wheeler, a meteorologist and professor at North Dakota State University, first heard it upon moving to Fargo and said it describes a “winter without much composite snow accumulation.” Michael Meier, a farmer in Kansas said it meant the winter would be good “for cows grazing on corn stalks.” And Greg Haubrich, a farmer in Saskatchewan, Canada, said his great-grandfather used the phrase to mean the “horses could get around easy.”
As a society language is one of the things that binds us. Exploring the etymology of any word or phrase can help us explore how we interact both with each other and the world. And like any other tool, Social media can be used for both good and evil - depending on the intentions of the user.
After the last few days, I’m not so sure it’s going to be an Open Winter. But one thing I do know is that by being willing to share his experiences and history with me, my friend Jack helps me understand the place I now call home ... just a little bit more.