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Branching Out: What is it with winter?

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

All the other other seasons are linked together by bearable, warmer temperatures, tethered to things that are “alive.” We play, we gather, we grow. Days are longer, more sensual. Winter is different, almost separate, in a way.

It’s here, truly, and I don’t hate it.

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The white stuff is sticking around, “cleaning” things up and bringing a new slant to everything. And it’s cold. Walking to the barn to do horses once, a Canadian friend laughed at me, all scrunched up and shivering in my Carhartt and woolies.

“Relax your back,” she ordered, pressing her palms down it. “Relax your muscles. It’s not that bad!” I still hear her chuckle as I step out to the cold, muscles willfully relaxed, mood immediately invigorated.

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Living on the East Coast through my teens, I loathed winter for ohhh, so many reasons; one among them was the quality of light. Day after day, cloud layers and a dull flat light put a damper on everything.

Here in the West, bluebird skies urge us to engage — so, for 330 days a year, there’s this pervasive pressure to Just Do It. After 30 years of doing it, though, I’m tired. Winter’s gray skies are a reprieve to “do other things,” making the return of blue ones a welcome dose of neurotransmitters. Winter’s variability has freed me to experience and appreciate my own variability — the fluctuating emotions and feelings of being human.

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Way back when, winter meant the end of summer. Spring and autumn didn’t even register as a kid. Summering in the same place year after year with the same families in the Catskills, I felt everything was “over” at summer’s end. I parted ways with my best friends for a year. Mountains, forests and creeks gave way to commuter traffic, concrete and walls. Freedom gave way to reality, as the coming months were already prescribed for all of us: school or work spiraled into the pressure of exams, deadlines… and then the annual crush of holidays. It was inexorable — and I had no say about it.

A few weeks into winter now, summer’s “life-full-ness” is long gone, the holiday gaiety satiated, yes. But nothing is “over.” In the arc beyond the holidays, our story is no longer written for us. We’re not expected to “do” this, or “feel” that. In a culture that demands and defines so much for us, the winter season lets us write our own stories. Under the tilt of a paler sun, we get to float on our own axis.

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We can choose a different perspective.

I once perceived winter dormancy as “nothingness.” There’s actually so much more. Rather than focusing on what isn’t here — leaves, blossoms, the things we can touch or smell or keep — I can see between and through to something much greater. Divided by trunks, lifted by limbs, held by boughs — is spaciousness. Clear, open, multidimensional and infinite. Savoring the transformation, letting that “nothingness” be, I can feel those dynamic qualities inside me — a “so muchness” that absolutely ignites me.

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This paradox of emptiness and possibility has become more available to me amid winter than at any other time of year. No other season holds the mirror as does winter. With the bells and whistles of sexier, warmer, more distracting seasons on the other side of our planet — what are we left with, but ourselves?

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A statue in True Nature’s Peace Garden endures the winter with tranquil style. Photo by Raleigh Burleigh

Tags: #Branching Out #introspection #seasons #winter
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