How to Be a Winter Person

Wintering. A season in the cold. A transition between two worlds. Often involuntary. Always inevitable.

As we enter this third pandemic winter, and as I prepare to enter another decade of living, I find I am growing more and more in love with being a winter person. I have not struggled through the pandemic as so many have; my introvert inclination has saved me from the challenges. But the forced isolation has also helped me realize the gifts of this wintering phase of life I am inevitably shifting toward as I approach seventy.

Life has always been uncertain, but it used to be easier to ignore the fact, especially for those in youthful oblivion. The six years I spent with my mother in the deep winter of her life, forced me to look my own wintering in the face sooner than I otherwise might have. The pandemic has brought uncertainty to everyone’s attention. Learning to sit with it has been more difficult for some than for others, but we are all weary of one or another aspect.

My friend Christina Baldwin, in the foreword to Beyond Covid: Leaning Into Tomorrow, writes: “The pandemic is not an event; the pandemic is a shift. A shift is a much harder experience” (Story Circle Network 2022 Anthology).

Periods of wintering have come and gone over my years—leaving friends with each move, ended relationships, lost jobs, empty nesting, the years with my mother—but I am not yet in permanent winter as my mother was. Winter is still an event. Spring will come and I will make way for it outside: clearing away the aftermath of winter, deciding what to do with my ruined garden, planting seeds. Summer will follow with its long days and I will return to the hiking trails. Autumn will be here and with it the publication of my memoir to promote—awkward timing given I would rather spend the calendar winter with tea and a book than engaging in extroversion. But one day the shift will come, when winter is not confined to the calendar months. Already I notice a stronger alliance with friends my age, while younger friends are still achieving, less ready to settle into the quiet.

The winter solstice is my holiday, if you can call it that. “The longest night” speaks to me not of darkness as negative space, but of cozy, candlelight, solitude, reflection. I am not depressed, I am not sad. In fact, I am energized in winter. Not to do stuff, to accomplish great things—or anything at all—but to be content with the slower pace, with watching the juncos lined up on the deck rail from my father’s ugly recliner in the corner of the living room, with working at my desk by the electric fireplace, with napping, with knitting out warmth to wrap myself and others into.

It snowed last week, and the landscape softened. The juncos and chickadees flocked to the feeders and I had to refill them twice. The simple act was enough accomplishment. I returned from a second trip to Seattle, first for Christmas with family (leaving early because of the predicted snow) and returning three days later to help them move. I drove home through alternating light rain and snow, arriving in town to barely plowed roads and wavy skid marks up my icy hill, both sorry to leave my lively family on the cusp of a new chapter in their life and wanting to be a part of it, and happy to return to my cocoon with no need to get out again for the rest of the year.

On the last day of the old year, I slept late, made cinnamon rolls—just because I wanted to—walked in the snowy woods where I met my 95-year-old neighbor and his old dog, napped, read. I am so content.

There is more excavating to do through my parents’ life in stuff saved. I’ll get back to it tomorrow after one more day of stillness. Cleaning out this too-big house is part of my preparation for the inevitable shift to longer winters and I am suddenly desperate to get it done, to become lighter, to be ready for what may come.

I have some ideas for what I want my long wintering years to look like, more cinnamon rolls for one. I will steer in that direction to the extent I am able, not with resolutions, but with intentions. These calendar winters are practice. This pandemic is a trial run. Life will keep unfolding as it will, and how we respond is up to each of us, and it won’t be the same from neighbor to neighbor. I hope I can respond with grace; time will tell, but I am preparing.

May this new year be all you hope for. Thank you for being here on the page with me. 💜

11 thoughts on “How to Be a Winter Person

  1. This makes me cry. My heart is a slushball of emotions. This week of snow on ground, icy roads, and slowness all timed beautifully with nature and the liminal space between holidays and years. Thank you for putting into words this space, this age, this moment in larger time.

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  2. Wow, I need to take some lessons from you. “energized in winter…. to be content with the slower pace” is such an interesting concept. Excited to lay low. My introverted self does love the excuse to couch it by the fire with a book, or steep my bones in hot water. But but but… This happens every year, and I can never figure out how to step in more gracefully. I was not born to it, and in more graceful years a week or 2 in the sun got me through and helped me appreciate it all. Perhaps I need some kind of phobia therapy, like what people do for fear of snakes or spiders. Anyway, I admire your grace, your style, your words and your buns, the cinnamon kind, and look forward to reading more winter wisdom. And excavating. And grandkids.

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    1. It does sound contradictory, doesn’t it, energized by the slower pace. I guess the opposite of depressed. My mother hated winter. She hated autumn too, because it came before winter. She referred to napping, or sitting, as lazy. My goal, when I come to the point that I have no choices, is to embrace it. I’m starting early. “I wintered,” I will say when asked about my day; never, “I was lazy.” My love of autumn and winter is not new to me. I hated living in the SE, not enough rain, not enough cold. (It was freaking 80 degrees in Raleigh yesterday!) But embracing it is new, noticing I love it more than ever is new, not thinking something is wrong with me is new. Also, the buns were perfection, if I do say. I gave half of them away, so I may have to make more. Wait till you hear what I excavated today in a very brief foray to the dig. Our feelings about winter was not the only place my mother and I parted company. Thank you for your words, Nancy, as always.

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      1. I like it too. A lot. I suppose it’s been around, probably for centuries (“the winter of our discontent”); but I don’t think I ever noticed it until this year; and it’s everywhere. Just say yes to buns! Ultimate cozy food. (Cozy being my favorite word from last year.)

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  3. I really love the beautiful description here of your own wintering. Maybe that’s your next book, my friend. I would be first in line to read it. Having shared so intimately in someone else’s winter of life (your mother’s) and then describing with such clarity and vision the walk into your own, I think you have a unique opportunity. And as always, a wonderful perspective on things.  I’d read anything you chose to write, but this season in our lives is so rich and to have the clarity of a voice like yours would have such an impact. Great post, Gretchen. Hunker down and enjoy the season. Introverts unite! (Oh, wait … that kinda defeats the purpose 😉)

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    1. Thank you, my friend. I think that book has been written! I really never had a name for it before, and I’m glad I do now. It seems to be everywhere. In the dead of last night, after struggling with this post for two days, I decided to ditch it. I feared it was too morose. But in the light of day, I decided it was okay. Thank you for your affirmation. Rebecca gave me a coaster that says, “Listen, I still want to be invited but I’m not coming.” Haha. So true, especially if it’s dark. And peopley. That said, I’m going to the postponed Boxing Day party tonight.

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  4. It’s not often I can experience & commiserate with PNWers during freezing cold, but I can today! Texas is freezing too though we enjoyed a balmy day yesterday with warm temps. I ‘ll light my first fire in the fireplace, do some yoga, perhaps sweep some leaves in the sun when the wind dies down. No snow. Still, the cold does invigorate me, having grown up in the temperate northeast.

    I fear I may never get my groove back after mild covid appeared in our family,…we missed our Christmas gathering and are still postponing it! I lean toward the proverbial clean/up and grab onto resolution of things in progress. .

    Meanwhile I enjoy a pot of herbs heating in the slow cooker, making a very nice, odorous kitchen!

    Happy New Year

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    1. Love to you, Maryl. I’m so sorry for the postponed gathering, and glad for the mildness of the covid case. I think grooves are always veered from this time of year, and it feels like we’ll never get it back. Yet, somehow, we get past it. More and more I never want winter to end, I dread extroverted spring. And every year, it returns in spite of me, and it’s okay. I have a hard time remembering that! I should possibly live in Alaska—except I get tired of slippery surfaces. Probably I’m in just the right place. 💜

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