While Alabama never has much of a real winter, other places are virtually defined by freezing temperatures, snow, and ice. This is certainly true for the Netherlands. The winter of 1657-58, just a few years before our painting was made, was particularly harsh. Major rivers and even coastal waters froze over. This had a huge impact on the daily lives of people, the economy (transportation on waterways), and even warfare (rivers as natural defenses).
Our painter, Jacob van Ruisdael, was one of the best landscape painters of his time. In the this painting, he convincingly captured the cold and snowy weather, the frosty foliage on the tree, and the boats captured by the ice. A couple seeks cover from the wind in the building on the right. The man walking along the path is bracing against the cold. The dark clouds above announce more snow. At the same time, there may be an underlying message, common in paintings of this period: life is fleeting. A scene like this may have reminded a viewer in the 1600s of his own mortality.