Contemplative Photography & Reflections

Embracing the Gifts of Winter

Brrrr! We are in the midst of a deep freeze here in the Northeast. It is FRIGID with overnight temperatures in the double digits below zero! The surface of the river is frozen again, and – although it’s bone-chilling weather to be outdoors – it is a sight to behold when the sun rises.

On my way home this evening, the sky was the most vibrant shade of baby blue I’ve ever seen, and the setting sun floated in a large sea of orange-yellow surrounded by blushes of rose and feathery wisps of violet. The textures and colors looked like a stunning watercolor painting. This gorgeous sky made a breathtaking backdrop for the trees silhouetted on the hills. I was tempted to stop the car and retrieve my camera from the trunk but decided to savor the view with just my eyes.

It was a welcome departure from the gray that dominates our world in the winter.

People around me have been questioning why we subject ourselves to winter’s stronghold for a third of our year. Yesterday the biting wind gusted as I sat in the car icing my foot while my husband filled our five-gallon water jugs at a popular local spring, and I contemplated this very question.

As humans, we can choose between adapting or migrating. Why do we stay here? It seemed to all come down to family, roots, familiarity. However, I think there’s more.

For three years of my life, I managed to avoid winter by living in Florida. It was wonderful to be able to go to the beach when friends and family in the Northeast were busy shoveling snow. I decided that March orange blossoms emitted the most intoxicating scent I’d ever experienced. It was great not having to scrape ice off the car windows in the morning in order to go anywhere.

However, as a native of upstate New York, it felt more or less like summer all year long since I was not attuned to the more subtle signposts that marked the seasons for native and securely transplanted Floridians. Summer was the indoor season when people moved briskly between air-conditioned cars, houses, and buildings, just as we find comfort and refuge in our heated cars, homes, and workplaces during winter up North. Perhaps if I had stayed longer, I, too, would have adapted to the Florida seasons and perceived more fully their nuances and rhythm. However, it felt to me as if something was missing from a soul-nourishing rhythm; winter as I’d always experienced it was a fundamental part of the structure and rhythm of my life.

This week, I have been tempted by the idea of relocating to a warmer climate. Perhaps we will someday if and when the time is right. However, since we are here now, it seems worthwhile to remind ourselves of the gifts of winter.

I appreciate the inward movement of winter. Although outdoor winter sports occupy many people’s free time, in general winter is a time of reduced activity and going within, for the days are shorter and there is less time to be active. People retreat into warm houses, some animals hibernate, and seeds rest in the earth. It is a time of stillness and silence. The symphony of sounds produced by the natural world (birds, frogs, insects, etc.) throughout the warmer months has been silenced. It is time to go within – to dream, reflect, create, and plan. To read books and watch movies. It is a time of deep rest and renewal. We can catch up on our sleep.

We have to generate our own light and warmth during the cold, dark months. We light candles, which are symbols of our inner light. We appreciate light because this is a time when it is not in abundant supply and cannot be taken for granted. Gatherings tend to be smaller and more intimate and cozy. Like animals who remain here in the winter, we learn to adapt to our surroundings. It is a time for dreaming about and envisioning the new gardens we will grow in the summer – both literally and metaphorically. We find various ways to create light and warmth in our lives and to extend our light and warmth to others. Our routines and traditions are motivated by the need to take the chill out of winter days and nights.

Each year, I read a picture book to my kindergartners called Winter is the Warmest Season by Lauren Stringer. They are always perplexed and amused by the title, but then we read about how our world becomes warm in the winter when hats grow ear flaps, hands wear woolly sweaters, and pajamas grow feet. There are hot breakfasts, roaring fires, hot soups, thick blankets, and hissing radiators. Winter is a season that produces our coziest memories. This is a special, beautifully illustrated book that helps us appreciate winter’s finer and warmer qualities. It brings me back to warm memories of my childhood home: Sitting on top of furnace vents in the floor under a little blanket tent, or standing over the vent so the warm air would make my long flannel nightgown puff up. Children are creative beings who know how to make the most of the moment!

After reading the book, we create a collaborative class book, “What Makes Winter Warm.” Each child contributes an illustrated page about his or her favorite way to make winter warm. Here are some of the ideas they came up with:

  • bubble bath
  • skiing
  • fireplace
  • pet dog sleeping on my lap
  • macaroni and cheese
  • mittens
  • hot cocoa
  • grilled cheese sandwiches
  • sitting by the heater
  • warm blankets on my comfy bed
  • snuggling together for bedtime stories

    These are all happy memories that make them smile. (Notice the smiles in their illustrations!) Children do not complain about winter. They love it!

    As I entertained thoughts of fleeing to a warmer climate on this frigid day, I decided to make a list of some of my favorite ways to stay warm in the winter:

    • sitting by the wood stove
    • heated car seats
    • my favorite hand-knit alpaca gloves with fingertips that fold down
    • a thermos of hot herbal tea to sip throughout the day at work
    • the aroma of homemade soup and bread
    • curling up with a good novel
    • snowshoeing in the quiet woods
    • a warm shower or bath
    • outdoor fires under a clear sky, breathing fresh air
    • hot oatmeal and porridge for breakfast
    • doing dishes by hand in warm, soapy water
    • watching movies under warm blankets

    These are the little things that are woven into the fabric of our lives. They enrich our lives with a certain rhythm and structure and build cozy, comforting memories. These are the things to focus on when the temperature drops below zero. Since this is where I am right now, I might as well embrace the gifts of winter!

    What brings you joy and warmth in the winter?

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    © Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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