I’ve mourned for my Mom through the damp and dark of the last two winters. And surprisingly, this southern California native has found companionship in a much-maligned season. Winter’s simplicity: the absence of sound, the lack of an invitation to tarry in its cold presence, its graphic black and whiteness, has reflected and comforted my own interior landscape.
I’ve not joined in (well, maybe a bit) with the grumbling about winter, and have felt instead, relief. Permission. The acceptance of a slower pace. Happy that the ice, snow, rain, and cold gave me shelter, I found a reason to hibernate; to spend time not thinking about work and my usual dizzying round of socializing, and indulging in occasional crying jags and frequent cups of tea. No pressure of a beautiful day to mock or guilt me into feeling I was wasting time inside. Instead, the earth’s frozen season invited me to immerse myself in winter.
The North Saami language, spoken by people in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, has over 180 words for snow. That number used to seem unlikely, until I became more of a disciple of winter. Now, I see how softly-falling snow, with its wet, cotton-ball flakes, differs from icy snow, falling needle-like at a slant, a cousin of freezing rain. How snow-already-fallen, with crust and a texture, varies from fluffy to icy to gritty to mushy. Snow can have just enough color, too: white of course, black when dirty, but variations of marbled, veined, and opaque after melting and refreezing again. Pink snow, or gray, or blue in various light, depending on the time of day and the presence of sun or shadow. It can sparkle, reflecting streetlight or starlight, like cut diamonds on the lawn.
Even without snow, the cold is bracing. Unyielding. Forcing you to wrap yourself in layers to withstand it. I place Mom’s sweaters around me like safety; her pale blue or spring green cardigans adding another layer of her presence beneath my coat. I hear my breath, my heartbeat, as I walk in the safe space I’ve spun.
Mostly, winter is quiet. Snow muffles sounds of footsteps or voices, hides the edges, traces tree limbs against the sky. No birds sing. A stray fox, hungry deer, even the other dogs that Reg and I share the path with, are business-like and stoic. Winter doesn’t coddle. It is direct and honest. When I turn to walk into the wind, I respect the austerity of its sting to face and eye. I have another reason for my tears.
To hibernate is as necessary to our spiritual renewal as responding to the quickening of spring or the pure party that is summer. To lick our emotional wounds in a slowed-down ambience is solace. In the depths of winter, I found a natural world that mirrored my grief, my interior-ness to such a degree that I appreciate my kinship with the sky, the air, and the rhythm of the earth.
Occasionally, the pervasive gray yields to a pale sun struggling to break through the clouds. I see my muted shadow reflected on the snow. The sun struggles, and I still do, too. At times, a brilliant day materializes. Post-snowfall, these days leave me breathless with their clarity, blue sky, and blinding sunlight. They are a reminder of the power of the sun, and the eventual return of the light, of the warmth. But I’m still patient. For a few more weeks, I’m content to be with myself in this dark, rich season.