I’ve always been a deeply seasonal person, though I haven’t always known how to move through each season with grace.
Instead of using winter to rest, recharge, replenish, and reflect, I traditionally fell into deep depressions and periods of sloth.
I come from a place with four distinct seasons: warm, wet, rainy spring, full of daffodils and petrichor and abundant animal friends; hot, muggy summer, when most of your plans are for free outdoor events that could be either canceled (movies in the park) or enhanced (concerts in a meadow) by maelstroms; rich, crunchy fall that smells of gutted pumpkins and fallen leaves and cider made from local apples; and deep, desolate, biting winter, with snowfalls you can sink in and temperatures so low a metal door can burn your hand.
I always loved the mild ones. Spring and fall were my jam, and while I appreciated the freedom summer offered during my school years, I hated the oppressive heat that left me prone to fainting spells (granted, these were far more common in times of my life when I wasn’t taking care of myself).
Winter was its own beast. I loved the visual peace and ethereal silence of endless snow, but the cold penetrated so deep. As a child I loved sled-riding, coming in to roaring fires and hot cocoa to warm our pink noses and peel off our layers of protective clothing. I loved visiting–often more than once a year–the famous drive-through light show that drew people from other states and has since ceased operation.
As a child I also endured a traumatic experience that left one of my siblings with severe frostbite and all of us with psychological and emotional injuries that would shape us each in very different ways.
I think my love of winter was buried in the snowdrift that day, but I feel confident that it was preserved like a bulb, waiting to reawaken when I finally felt ready to nurture it. And perhaps years without it is what I needed to feel ready. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The winters at college were even more severe, and while they were sprinkled with laughter and coffee and snow angels and chain-smoking cigarettes by the hot vent where the cafeteria air was released, they were also weighed down under tears, fatigue, and self-destructive behaviors. Instead of restorative rest, I would push myself to stay awake until when I finally fell asleep I was fully dead to the world for over 12 hours at a time, unaware of alarms or knocks.
Looking back I have clear memories of delighting in fashion innovations (boots over knee socks over crocheted tights over metallic leggings over regular tights; granted, most of these innovations work best on a body type I no longer inhabit), giggling with friends as we snuck indoor 3 a.m. cigarettes in whoever’s room had the best ventilation, building igloos, driving around the countryside in search of hidden treasures.
But at the time, I was so focused on the deep cold, and so determined to be fire in a time when I needed to be gentle water. I fought against my seasonality, and so for years I was ruled by the seasons instead of flowing with them as part of the natural world.
Later, I lived in the South. The strangest thing about winter in the South is that everyone pretends it doesn’t exist.
No doubt about it, Gulf Coast summers are too long, too hot, and too humid. Spring and fall are more like summer’s shadow periods than seasons in their own right. The rain patterns fluctuate and different flowers become the featured attraction, but ultimately, their characters are seen through a hazy, oppressive, summer-glass window.
But there are southern winters.
People will spend 8-9 months of the year joking about how they don’t know what winter is, and it’s true that it has a different name in the area: Gumbo Season.
Gumbo Season is cold and dark. I don’t believe in weather shaming; no, it isn’t as cold as Boston. No, it isn’t as dark as Canada. It’s cold for where it is, it’s dark for where it is, and temperatures hit freezing, which is cold by definition, anywhere.
Summer days and nights are consistently hotter than 90 degrees, often over 100. During Gumbo Season, freezing temperatures don’t occur daily for months, but they do occur, and there are weeks at a time where the temperatures are in the 40s or 50s, and the air is just as wet as ever, so it feels cold.
I’ve seen it snow in the Gulf region a few times. People panic; they don’t know how to drive in it, and even if they did, their roads aren’t salted. They’re unprepared for winter. So they pretend it doesn’t exist.
I didn’t fully realize until I’d left the South how strange and untethering it is to be a seasonal person in a land with one and a half seasons. Most holidays didn’t quite feel right, but I adapted my customs and expectations. After a while I was able to go through the motions of honoring the year’s transitions, but my body and mind weren’t in sync with my surroundings. My cravings for the natural world were always out of touch with the way the world was actually shaping around me.
I moved from the Deep South to the Deep North: the haunting, ancient wilds of the Pacific Northwest.
I mean, I live in a city. But the wilds are all around us, always happy to envelop me at a moment’s notice, and have reawakened the wilds within me.
We have seasons here. They’re not like the seasons in the East, although parts of the region do get falls that rich and winters that deep; my city is simply positioned perfectly between the mountains and the sea in a way that keeps things pretty mild.
It’s snowed twice in the last year, and neither time has been much to write about. It’s still something.
There are places to go on day trips to see snow, though; there are mountains, Gandalf. Mountains. I see them every day, to the east and to the west, and every day they humble and enliven me. On weekends, whenever possible, I venture into their labyrinths to vanquish my demons.
Out here, a hot summer day is 85 degrees. That oppressive period lasts a couple of weeks. A cold winter day is around 30 degrees, which isn’t very common either. Right now, on the first day of winter, it’s 40 degrees.
The year-round temperature tends to hover between the 40s and 70s, a considerably small range for someone who grew up seeing both negative and triple-digit temperatures. We’re blessed with a variety and abundance of evergreens, so while we do have seasonal loss of leaves, winter never looks barren here.
It looks vibrant and full of life. It looks restful, like the spirit of the land is gently replenishing, but still visibly breathing.
Out here, the seasons are marked largely by plants; this one flowers now, that one bears fruit now, this one plays dead now, that one resurrects now.
Out here, the seasons are marked by rain. We rarely get thunderstorms and flood warnings; it’s the slow, constant, six-months-straight drizzle, the London Fog, the sudden but gentle stops and starts that rarely make you bother to put your hood up.
And up here, above all, the seasons are marked by darkness and light.
The northernmost cities of more than 10,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000, and 500,000 residents in the continental United States are all in Washington State (thank you, Wikipedia). We don’t get a true Midnight Sun, but our summer solstice sees 16 hours of daylight.
Compare that to today, when our daylight will be roughly half of that.
It’s a quiet, mild winter, and ever so dark. I’ve never felt more full of Solstice energy than I do here: calm, quiet, restful. And I’ve never felt more appreciative of lighting the winter nights with fairy lights, crackling fires, and candles. I’ve even grown more appreciative of the garish Christmas lights in my neighborhood.
In some ways, the winter solstice feels like the true end of the year, with the new one beginning to grow tomorrow alongside the daylight hours. Before we know it, it will be summer. There will be mountains to climb, mild temperatures, endless energy, endless light.
For now, though, we rest. The coldest days have yet to come, and though the light will begin to grow, it will be a slow process, a luxuriant stretch as 2019 wakes up into itself.
For now, we bake evergreen cookies and sip juniper tea and throw sacred herbs on the fire. We can curl up in restful solstice energy, in hot baths and under hot blankets, and place labradorite behind candles and read books and put on some warming winter weight as we indulge in gluhwein and baking and all the nourishing comforts of the season.
For now, we stay inside and decorate with fallen evergreen boughs and start blogs and come into ourselves and sink into our dreams and remember what it is to awaken.
For now, we honor the winter solstice.