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. 💜