If we lean into Winter's simplicity, and kindle warmth and togetherness, the season need not feel so harsh. This is the beauty and wisdom of Winter's clearance...
Here's Part 1 if you missed it!
Farther up Nort’ than the Twin Cities, conifers are so thick and full that the landscape feels almost bundled up, draped with bushy, tufted coats of aromatic, wind-proof insulation.
Comparatively, the MSP area can seem austere: here the defoliated trees seem to bear their bark as angular armor; and pity the person struck by a gust blasting across the prairie or funneled between concrete and steel buildings. Water sources seem to have pulled over their own hard, protective layer, and they crack and boom ominously if you disturb them.
Even for people who remember that, come springtime, forest and field and yard will fill with riotous life again, wintertime can feel harsh and bleak. It can even feel somehow unnatural, as if Nature Herself – the great provider and dynamo – has departed unsentimentally from our presence, fled to sunward lands, abandoning us to the spaceward backside of the planet. In this apparent loss, Death can feel closer in winter.
Of course, She is near as ever – still bountiful and active, just in quieter, stiller ways. And though in some ways Death may be closer in these dim, sparse months, Nature has given us countless ways of kindling Life. We hibernate, we tend our hearth and our stores of nourishment. And we venture out into the winter wonderland to seek Her hidden wisdom.
When we look a little more deeply, we can see winter as a sumptuous season. The world becomes a kind of infinite sandbox, covered with all-purpose molding clay we can use for games and architecture. Cushions of snow soften every movement we make; ice paves shortcuts between lakeshores; everywhere we walk on the miracle of water.
This gift is in abundance even if Nature’s other gifts are not. And the relative absence of other gifts, actually, counterintuitively, nurtures appreciation and sharing of everything we do have. We find ourselves suddenly more generous with and grateful for the simple, vital things: shelter, warmth, relationships, moments of connection, and moments of solitude.
This return to what truly matters is only possible because of winter’s clearance. The clutter and dross of Life goes dormant or offers itself as fertilizer for coming growth. Nature doesn’t disappear. She simply goes fallow.
Meanwhile, the new, powdery smoothness of the horizon invites us to serenity, or its gentle blur invites us to inhabit the present moment rather than peering too far away from it.
The snow-softened hush on urban streets offers us a sense of peace rarely found in the city, or the slushy messiness around us pushes us out or in toward simpler, quieter places.
With winter’s clearance, space opens up between the trees for unforeseen paths and lines of sight and ways of breathing, all fresh as fallen snow. And space opens up for unforeseen encounters: even in the Twin Cities, we’re lucky to share our environment with healthy deer communities. If we move slowly and watchfully enough through the woods, we can see tracks and camouflaged shapes and faces there with us.
May we learn from our animal kin. May we learn to move through winter as deer do: in groups, as family, together sharing the simple, vital things we have. May we shelter and warm each other and ourselves, remembering to keep our layers from becoming hard, keep them soft as a seasonal coat. May we remember that our aversion to winter’s austerity is mostly just aversion to winter’s quiet and stillness, which deer so readily embrace.
They remember that clearance, fallowness, and Death are as natural as any other state – and ultimately just as Life-giving. May we remember as well.