“Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.” —Paul Theroux
Winter is upon us. Daylight is sparse. Dark extends from late afternoon well into morning. The air is cold and houses warm. Long nights encourage long sleeps. It is slow-down-time, mid-winter’s gift. The rush, the energy, the holiday festivities have ended. The silent nights finally arrive. And what a gift they bring!
Winter forces me to slow down. If I don’t alter my winter driving I invite a fender-bender that would slow me even more. The prelude to winter walks includes gathering boots, hats, mitts after I’ve layered long-johns, sweaters and scarves. No dash out the door! My pace meets the sidewalk conditions. Slowed down, I am more apt to see a world hidden by the blur of activity. Eagles soar over the river. Crows congregate. Turkey families forage in underbrush.
‘Winter foods are slow foods. I gather root vegetables and simmer them with boney meats. I dig through my larder to assemble aromatic foods in a tall pot and set it on the back burner, flavors mingling through much of the day until I ladle it into deep soup bowls. Bread kneaded in and out, over and back, rises at its own unhurried pace; its yeasty scent permeates the kitchen. Slow foods foster long conversations around the dining room table.
While many of life’s activities continue, several are on hiatus. The garden lies fallow. Toys that float, sail or zip are packed away. Instead I dig out winter supplies–yarn, fabric, paper and paints– and play without purpose or agenda. My own pulse slows to the rhythm of these calm activities.
Long nights lend themselves to multi-hour movies, engrossing novels, Sunday crossword puzzles. I remember my pregnant Mom awaiting February babies, whiling away her time with 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles that formed pictures of great sailing ships on turbulent seas.
Spontaneous neighborhood chats are few in winter. What we say is drowned by the roar of snowblowers. However, when friends or neighbors do stop by, they are more inclined to stay awhile, joining us by the fire to share stories old or new.
When I learned to drive, the interstate system was in its infancy. I was taught to stay in the right lane unless I was passing. The left-most lane was the passing lane. As freeways became crowded, more and more traffic moved to the left. Like freeway travel, many of us have moved our lives into the passing lane, going faster and faster. Just as driving in the passing lane is dangerous, so is living in the passing lane. Winter is the time to merge back into the slow lane, moving into a healthy, human pace. Winter lends itself to reflections on the gift of time. As I write the date I recall I am in a new year, a year open to fresh experiences, challenges and opportunities. Likewise, I am reminded of the passing of the old year. There are no beginnings without endings. How was that year past? What are its joys and sorrows? Its gifts and burdens? Its wisdom and learnings
Author Kate DiCamillo was selected by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as 2014‘s artist of the year. When asked which of her many books is her favorite, she compared it to a parent being asked which of your children is your favorite. An impossible question to answer, each loved in their own individual way. I wonder if it isn’t like that for years. Of the many I have lived, which would be my favorite? Some flowed along steadily, others circled back and looked like a rerun. Some shone with abundance, others met with scarcity. Some were celebratory, others swelled with mourning. Each came with a lesson to learn whether I listened or not. I like to take one of these quiet winter nights and pull out the decade plan we drew up several years ago. Looking ahead for ten years is a challenge, more of a dream than a plan. Somehow putting those dreams in writing and then letting them germinate, sets an intention that is often realized. This year, when we pulled out the rolled up plan, we saw that “buy RV” was written in for 2014. As it happened, we did buy an RV last year–a 30-year old vehicle which had been dearly loved and cared for by its previous owners, barely driven beyond Wisconsin. It appeared last June and we bought it. That it happened to match the scheduled year of our plan looks like pure serendipity and a pleasant surprise. Turns out, that plan was prescient.
While there is much we don’t know about the future, there are many things we can predict. We can estimate when children no longer need daycare, graduate, leave home. We can make a plan to save money for a dream vacation or house or new car. We can note when we are eligible for retirement, when we can pull social security, when our house is paid for. We can set an intention around a new career, a job change, going back to school. We can mark our big anniversaries–20 years of sobriety, 25 years of marriage, 30 years in this house. We know that our lives will change and even a dream plan can help us steer that change. Like yearend pundits, I look back as well as ahead.
As I make a list of what happened in the year ending, I am amazed at its size. What at first seemed like an ordinary year has many of its own beginnings and endings– jobs, habits, relationships. It has purchases, repairs, exits. It has stories, memories, turning points. Year by year I make a life.
Each season brings its own gifts. Winter’s gift is the opportunity to slow down. There is much to learn from our natural world and its cyclic rhythms; there is a time to lie fallow, catch up on sleep, wait patiently. Let winter be a time for recovery and preparation. Soon enough it will be spring.
Mary Lou Logsdon is a Spiritual Director and Retreat Leader in the Twin Cities. She teaches in the Sacred Ground Spiritual Direction Certification Program. She can be reached at logsdon. firstname.lastname@example.org or 651/583-1802.