Winter walks ever so slowly across the calendar. Dragging each day out to an eternity. Even though the days are short and dark, they still seem to last forever. I wonder how I will ever make it through these cold and dismal days. Summer seems like it will never come again. So to face my fears, I suit up and I step outside.
My weather-proof gear makes a scratchy sound as I walk, the edges of my coat collar scraping at my neck. It is uncomfortable. But I am warm. I have finally learned how to keep myself warm in winter. It has taken me 42 years. Warmth is cozy socks and furry boots and knitted hats and wide headbands that cover my ears. Gloves and coats and long wool sweathers. Leggings under everything. Hot tea. The warm sun on my face, while indoors or out, cheers me in a way not much else can. Snuggling with my dog in front of the fire. Snuggling with my family in front of a movie.
I used to waste the entire season of autumn dreading the upcoming winter. Wringing my hands and gnashing my teeth at the cruelty of the cold. Like winter was out to get me. Like it was personal. Now I can see it for what it is. It is necessarily hard- the clothes, the gear, the cold, the torment. So that we will be grateful for spring when she arrives like a long-awaited party. So that we will be thankful for summer- a day at the beach that never has to end. And then we will even welcome fall- a time to look back on the spectacular year we have had with gratitude and wonder and awe. To begin yet another winter.
Lest we not forget, the other three seasons have their challenges too. I held spring up on a pedestal for so long, until I began suffering from pollen allergies. And now I have to arm myself with pills and potions and tissues to ward off the poisonous air. Summer has its share of mosquitoes, bee stings, stubbed toes, and sunscreen-in-the-eye moments as well. Fall brings the greatest threat of hurricanes in my sphere. Tornadoes too. The woods can feel very snakey in fall. There is a bit of torment in every season. But a great deal of joy as well, if we can focus on it and not allow our daydreams of different weather to cloud our vision.
In winter, things become clear. On my walks in winter, I can see deeper into the woods. The brush has fully died back. With the leaves completely fallen off the trees, my view extends further than my narrow path. The silhouette of a tree against a brilliant blue sky is striking. I can see its true form. I can see the nest of a bird tucked into a crook where branch meets trunk. The air has no bugs flying around or pollen swirling about in great yellow clouds. The air smells clean, like fresh ice.
The garden is laid bare. Now you can see the structure of things. Fix what’s broken, move things around, train the roses to grow in a new direction. Planting trees in winter gives great satisfaction. They provide the biggest payoff to a gardener with their low level of care, their multi-season beauty, and the fact that they probably will outlive you. Once you plant a tree, you need not touch that particular spot of earth again. You can feel finished in a way that gardens rarely allow.
On my winter walks, I see hawks take advantage of the blue sky. Turtles venture out onto pond banks on sunny days. The snakes wouldn’t dare come out of hibernation. So you don’t either. You relish the rest that the season affords. But you are comforted by the thought that by putting one foot in front of the other, you can make it out.
I live in the south, where the seasons fall over each others’ laps like drunk girls at a party. Spring comes in early, demanding our attention. Summer has been known to outstay her welcome. Fall is one week at Thanksgiving. We rake leaves at Christmas. So winter is a few short weeks in January and February. I shouldn’t complain. By March 1st, winter is mostly over. The loud and obnoxious spring starts making herself known and you have to begin winding yourself up again to meet the demands of children and lawns and gardens. Of all growing things. Including and especially yourself.
You realize you only have three weeks left of winter and you get a little melancholy. Hoping it will last just a little longer for you to rest some more. Breathe some more. Read more books and take more naps and drink more tea before you have to put on your fancy party dress and prepare for the dance.