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The Wisdom of Winter - Part 1

Winter doesn't have to be a purgatory - it can be a paradise! Discover the beauty and wisdom of the season...
snowy river field landscape with glassy water and colorful sun on horizon

We Minnesotans know our winters have earned their hype. “Yes,” we Ope-rs tell flabbergasted NOpe-rs, “It really does get that cold.”


Even well-accustomed, lifelong MSP residents pine for escape to a warm beach, or even to a different kind of cold in the picturesque boreal Northland even farther north. At least the woods there are evergreen and thick, buffering the Arctic winds. Indeed, Twin Cities winters, here at the intersection of biomes – the now-leafless deciduous forest, the windswept prairie, and the gritty urban sprawl – can seem the most unfortunate of anywhere outside Siberia.


But, as those of us who venture into the frigid outdoors with open eyes well know, there’s incredible, unique beauty here – and in it, some of Nature’s deepest wisdom – waiting to be discovered. And this wisdom is hidden in what’s usually considered un-beautiful, as wisdom so often is.


Let’s explore some of our local wisdom by way of comparison: to the romantic coniferous forest of the Northcountry. That biome is populated throughout the winter by trees of rich, lush, dark-and-mysterious blues and greens, Our habitat farther south seems colorless in contrast. By now, the forests have lost all hue but the dun of bark; the prairie is an endless expanse of white; cars paint everything in the city with generous sprays of a pigment called slush. And the lakes and rivers – which, when thawed, offer vivid reflections and shimmering depths – are frozen and snowed over.


Even for folks practiced in seeing Nature as a mirror to the human Soul, it can be discouraging when everywhere the mirror seems frosted over. In such a landscape, we can feel as though Nature Herself, usually characterized in our minds by her vibrancy, has retreated from our part of the world. We can feel like she’s left us without reference-points for time or direction or beauty. We can feel stuck in a bland, interminable purgatory.


Of course, She is as present and vibrant as always in winter. When we look a little more deeply, remembering there is wisdom everywhere all year long, we can see that the mirror and colors of Nature have merely changed form.


While dark ground and water actually absorb light, white snow and ice are truly reflective surfaces. They reverberate with whatever colors are illuminating the sky, bathing us on the ground in brilliance from overhead. In the case of the sun – because it shines from an angle in winter – on clear days we see its slanted rays, yarrow-yellow and rose-gold, playing among shadows of wildflower-blue and -purple sent straight down from above. And when the moon lights up our night, it can be as if we’ve been transported there, walking amidst its own silver drifts and black craters. The snow even reflects things unseen: on gloomy days it appears lighter than the dimmed sky; it’s singing with light from beyond the clouds.


Attuning to these unique manifestations of color can teach us how, even in the depths of winter, Nature reflects what is Heavenly. And each of us, as part of Nature, whether we know it or not, does too. In holding so much light in spite of the darkness and the looming gray, snow and ice hold hope for us.


Further, by muting the usually raucous colors of forest and prairie, city and water, Winter can draw our attention instead to the stunning variety of textures all around us. From a branch’s intricate ridges, to a plain’s soft curvature. From the snowed-in geometric ingenuity of human hands, to the casual flourish of a frozen wave’s brush and seam. We may now notice such underappreciated artistry more easily.


Following these lines and depth-perceptions can reveal the staggering complexity of Creation – including of ourselves. Indeed, our still, quiet inner-worlds have such vivid contours. Tracing these can introduce us to equally Natural, internal reference-points for time and direction and beauty. And if we can accept the season’s invitation to turn inward, we soon find energy springing forth.


Indeed, surrounded by all this light and color, reflection and texture, the frosted Winter mirror may be the clearest one of all. May we remember to see into it. And may we remember to see our special, just-south-of-the-Northcountry version of winter not as purgatory, but as paradise.


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