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.