Winter Gifts

Ice formations on top of an artesian aquifer near Maiden Rock, WI.

At a retreat I helped facilitate for women with breast cancer the opening activity was to declare our favorite season. The floor had been divided into four quadrants–winter, spring, summer, fall–and the women gathered in the segments. The winter space was almost as bare as tree branches in January with only 3 of the 50 participants asserting love of winter.

I was one of those three, and we three actually held hands and huddled together–and vowed to meet for hot chocolate on the coldest of winter days. Each person shared what they loved about their favorite season, and we winter people had similar feelings–the love of burrowing in, of being cozy and having more time to read and write, feeling there are fewer distractions. We expressed love for the quiet that darkness brings.

None of us talked abut loving outdoor sports, although I have such wonderful childhood memories about ice skating Friday nights and Sunday afternoons at the neighborhood rink. As as an adult I enjoyed cross-country skiing with our children and later, at Sweetwater Farm, snowshoeing on our land, noting where deer had bedded down for the night. But those activities are not the core of my love of winter.

The season allows and encourages me to access not only the deepest parts of myself, but also the barest, like those skeleton bare branches.

Winter is a time of clarification for me. I see across the landscape of my soul, unhindered by intense and varied colors and textures. Instead, there is the sweep of white, the unhidden contours of the land, the places where the earth meets the sky. I note the eagles soaring above the few places of open water, and my heart soars, too, and feels the bigness of possibility, of hope. I seek that open water, not because I yearn for the flow of water in spring and summer, but because of its uniqueness during this frozen time. It illuminates the edges, the hard places, and invites me into the deep.

I wonder sometimes if the winter season was not positioned at the end and the beginning of the year, would I feel differently about winter? How much of this intentional time to go deeper, to challenge myself is related to the reflection and evaluation as we end one year and move into another? How much is about turning the page of a new calendar, clearing the space, starting again? Hard to know, but I think I am glad the season and the new year are related.

Recently, my husband and I headed out of St Paul and drove down the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi; a drive we love no matter the time of day or year; no matter the weather. We followed the easy directions to see the ice formations we had heard about and were stunned by their magnificence and their fairy tale beauty. As we continued along our favorite route, able to see Lake Pepin’s shoreline through the bare trees and also homes on top of the bluffs normally hidden by thick foliage, but now revealed against the grey sky, we counted hawks and eagles. Six hawks and at least two dozen eagles, including four in the same tree. And swans, too, holding a convention in open water. Who would not love this, I thought.

Returning home, I felt renewed, restored, and ready for the ongoing work of this winter age of my life.

An Invitation: Sit with winter, the season, the stage of life, and allow it to speak to you. What does it say to you? I would love to know.

8 thoughts on “Winter Gifts

  1. Winter offers contrasts and promises for me-beginning with Solstice and the slow incremental coming of light to each day; bitter cold and the soft warmth of shawls and throws; deep darkness through long nights and brightness reflected off ice and mounded snow drifts; and burrowing deep into solitude as I ride the wave of a new year.


  2. One reason I am not fond of winter is that I do not like to be cold, and living in an area that is actually a desert, most of the year is quite comfortably warm to scorching hot in the summer which I love. But, the problem with the winter cold is that I do not have clothing that is warm enough to set out on long treks into a blizzard or even a downpour. I have good boots, but all of my coats are what you who live in really cold places would call lightweight.


  3. How true it is that having the right “gear” for whatever your winter happens to be is important. I have a wardrobe of different coats and jackets for a wide range of temperatures –and that makes a big difference in how I experience these months.


  4. As an introvert, reader, and writer, you’d think I’d love winter but I actually find it depressing! It’s the lack of light and color for me. I crave sunshine, warmth, colorful flowers and leafy foliage. Though I’m finding the solitude and coziness of winter more pleasing as I get older.

    Those ice formations are incredible. Since I am in northwest IL, near the border of WI, I looked up Maiden Rock and it’s a five hour drive for us. Maybe when my husband retires, we can take a couple of days to travel up that way.


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