Now that snow has buried the last lettuces, the garden can rest. Growth slows in the metabolism of plants and in the soil. Earthworms go deep underground. Some caterpillars enter diapause (a lovely word) as they become a chrysalis and wait for spring’s signal to hatch as butterflies. Seeds wait for spring, some needing a good chill in order to sprout, and bulbs almost all need their rest in the cold for their flowers to bloom. But this is not the time to speak about blooming. This is winter. This is the time for resting.
If I could hibernate with the garden, I would have no complaints. I would like to live in a society where the pace of life and the demands of work followed the ebb and flow of the garden, where we could all go underground until the sun comes out again. Winter signals us to turn inward: to rest, to contemplate, to store up our energy for the flurry of life in spring. Winter invites us to think about death, surrounding us with her symbols. Winter does not coddle us.
Trees send out their strongest messages in the winter. No leaves or fruits obscure the skeleton of branches. Light grey sky through dark grey branches provides hypnotic monotony. Trees live longer than humans, and the growth of branches tells a complicated story about the soil and weather patterns of all the years before. What would our society be like if humans could strip down in the winter and look at life and death without labeling the tendency “seasonal affective disorder?”
Shorter days mean longer nights for sleeping and dreaming, and yet our culture attaches shame to early bedtimes. Psychologists know that important work happens while we sleep, and that dreaming is the glue that binds our memories into accessible bundles, and that more neural paths make more creative thinking. We all know the famous story of the scientist who discovered DNA by dreaming about the snake coiled upon itself in double helix formation. Work goes on underground in the brain when we rest, just like tree roots under the soil supply water and sustenance while a tree remains dormant.
I welcome the distractions and excitement of winter holidays – within reason. Some sparkly lights and a few presents for the people I care most about will do no harm, but hectic shopping and endless parties seem like desperate attempts to pretend the dark night of the soul is not calling from every branch. Winter allows the introvert to have full commerce with the dark night of the soul. In darkness many jewels can be found.
Winter deserves my respect for setting a clean stage for contemplation. Winter deserves my thanks for chilling the Lilac, the bulbs, and the asclepias seeds so they bloom next year. Winter deserves my happy sigh for tucking me in and letting me go to bed early when I need to.
My thanks to winter, and to all her gifts.