Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Navigating the Season

"And there is quite a different sort of conversation around a fire than there is in the shadow of a beech tree.... Four dry logs have in them all the circumstance necessary to a conversation of four or five hours, with chestnuts on the plate and a jug of wine between the legs. Yes, let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius." ~Pietro Aretino, translated from Italian

The days are definitely shorter now, with darkness creeping in around 4 P.M. these days where we live. We've had unusually bright, clear weather with much less rainfall - November was about nine inches below normal, I'm told. Dryness is relative, however, and so we have had some rain.

A cold air mass has pushed in, bringing temperatures in the 20s and 30s and leaving those perpetual puddles covered in ice. Hearing of the heavy snow storms expected across the country, I'm reminded of the years we spent in places where winter snows were the norm. I enjoyed those places and climes, but today I am content to be where I am.

Most of our flower and vegetable plots are looking rather ragged now, but the many conifers and other evergreen species keep the green going. Lingonberries, winterberries, and holly provide bright spots of red among the remaining leaves and stark, bare, branches. Already, many native shrubs and trees are putting forth small buds that will gradually grow, swell, and burst open when conditions are favorable. No matter how dark, cold, and wet winter is, there is always new life just waiting below the surface for its time to reappear. That is one of the things that I love about winter - the perpetual process of regeneration and promise of spring.

All seasons serve a purpose and I believe that winter is the time for rest and renewal. It is a time for slowing down, changing gears, and looking inward. In the past, when more of us were closer to the growing, harvesting, and marketing of food and goods and much more connected to the earth, this was easier to do. During the growing season we were kept busy and active; during the non-growing season we had time to regroup, reflect, and recreate. A part of us still wants this - colder, darker weather makes us seek warmth, light, and food that comforts us and draws us together.

Innately, I believe that most of us still seek this, but the plethora of technology nowadays seems to consume many of us and draw us into its spell. It seems to offer much of the light, warmth, and "food" that we crave and can connect us to others in ways we never imagined before. But like all things, moderation is important and the latest gadgets can, and often do, also cut us off from others in important ways. In our constant quest to be more "connected", do we not often invest much time and energy mentally removed from those who should matter? It is something that I think is worth thinking about because - I promise you - no machine is going to miss you when you're eventually gone...

The busy, hectic holiday season is once more upon us and seems to start earlier and earlier each year. Bottom line: BUY! Yes, there is some mention of gratitude and giving, but more and more those seem to take second place behind the buying. In our consumer society, we all seem to be on an ever-speeding treadmill to always get that one more thing that will make us, or those close to us, happy. But really, no amount of spending and buying will do that because it has to come from within. Yes, many of us know this and give lip service to the fact, but it's just too easy to get swept away with all the hype. Those who market to the rest of us are very good at it.

Once again, we struggle to make sense of it all. That is why I still believe that in this dark, cold season it does us good to look inside ourselves to see what we can discover. Why are we here and just what should we be doing in this place and time? What do we truly want to do and how can we do that given our circumstances? Heady stuff for sure. And, is it even worth thinking about or should we maybe just check that smart phone one more time?

"There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you.... In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself."
~Ruth Stout

Below are some ideas I previously offered for how we have zeroed in on what's important for us during the holidays - click on the titles: