Approaching winter our chance to shine

While it still feels like summer across most of the South, there are tell-tale signs winter is on its way.

Mornings are darker, nights cooler and leaves are starting to fall - albeit just a few. The onslaught of falling leaves will arrive in the coming weeks and, when it does, we would do well to face it as a community.

Human history is as much a triumph over winter as it is a triumph over nature; outside of the tropics, winter is not a season we're particularly well adapted to.

Our "fur'' is minimal and our upright stance, while great for keeping us cool, strips us of warmth as we trudge into a southerly. But we box on. Winter is just an annoyance.

Of course, winter is much more than that. These coming months are likely to bring severe rainfall to Dunedin, significant snowfalls inland, a lingering lack of sunshine and black ice to much of the region.

Over thousands of years we've developed cultural responses to winter's demands; Christmas and its pre-Christian forebears being the most obvious.

Yet, more than ever, we are becoming a society devoid of community.

The age-old cultural responses to problems we couldn't face alone have been largely superseded by more insular activities. But if ever there was a time to assess the value of community, it would be the onset of winter.

It's become easy to leave the bulk of the hard work required for a comfortable, functional winter existence to a switch, a button, or to something or somebody else. Consider the planning and energy required to ensure a family could stay warm through a bitter winter 2000 years ago. These days, for those who can afford it, switching on the heat pump will suffice.

If it rains, and blocked drains are a risk? No worries, there are council workers to sort it. Black ice? Everybody should know how to negotiate that.

But we sell ourselves short when our modern approach to winter ignores the wisdom of thousands of years of community spirit.

Despite who is being paid, how skilled a driver should be, or how well parents should be planning to ensure their kids are warm through winter, there will always be a need for assistance, for community, for responsibility to rest not on a button, or a driving test, or a council employee, but on all of us.

Leaves are not difficult to remove from drains. A broom or rake, a pair of gloves and a bucket will do - and a compost heap or garden bed will gladly consume the leaf matter.

Not all our neighbours are familiar with the winter driving techniques this region demands.

Our growing population is proof people are entering the region without the inbuilt knowledge many of us take for granted.

Not all of our neighbours will instinctively know how best to clear ice from a windscreen, negotiate snowy and icy roads, or ensure a warm and dry house through winter.

The lack of sun tends to bring a plummeting mood for some - something a little community spirit can help.

Not everyone is capable of warming their homes with the flick of a switch, nor do we all have the means or ability to stack firewood.

The South is different, culturally, to much of the rest of New Zealand.

Down here we are, all of us, at the mercy of winter and we have developed a culture which takes that into account.

That is something we should be proud of and embrace over the coming weeks and months.

It is good for us, good for our neighbours and good for our region. Sure, autumn heralds the onset of the cold, dark months. But it should also herald the onset of the best of this region - the warmth and light of its people.


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