Tunes for a Monday Morning
Signs of spring

Wintering

Ponies 1

Here in Devon, we're on the cusp of spring (daffodils in the woods, new lambs in fields, wild Dartmoor ponies beginning to foal), but I'm reading a book about about winter right now and finding it full of interest. Wintering by Katherine May explores the winter season metaphorically (as a symbol for those hard times in life that I refer to as the Dark Forest), as well as the actuality of winter as it is experienced in northern climes. She weaves her meditations on the cold and dark with a personal memoir about her own period of  "wintering," when illness in her family -- first her husband's, and then her own -- shook every foundation they had built their lives on.

"There are gaps in the mesh of the everyday world," May writes, "and sometimes they open up and you fall through them into Somewhere Else. Somewhere Else runs at a different pace to the here and now, where everyone else carries on. Somwhere Else is where ghosts live, concealed from view and only glimpsed by people in the real world. Somewhere Else exists at a delay, so that you can't quite keep pace. Perhaps I was already teetering on the brink of Somewhere Else anyway; but now I fell through, as simply and discreetly as dust sifting between the floorboards."

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"Everybody winters at one time or another," she explains; "some winter over and over again.

"Wintering is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you're cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of the outsider. Perhaps it results from an illness; perhaps from a life event such as a bereavement or the birth of a child; perhaps it comes from a humilation or failure. Perhaps you're in a period of transition, and have temporararily fallen between two worlds. Some winterings creep upon us, accompanying the protracted death of a relationship, the gradual ratcheting up of care responsibilities as our parents age, the drip-drip-drip of lost confidence. Some are appallingly sudden, like discovering one day that your skills are considered obsolete, the company you worked for has gone bankrupt, or your partner is in love with someone new. However it arrives, wintering is usually involuntary, lonely and deeply painful.

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"Yet it's also inevitable. We'd like to imagine it's possible for life to be one eternal summer, and that we have uniquely failed to achieve that for ourselves. We dream of equatorial habits, forever close to the sun; an endless, unvarying high season. But life's not like that. Emotionally, we're prone to stifling summers and low, dark winters, to sudden drops in temperature, to light and shade. Even if, by some extraordinary stroke of self-control and good luck, we were able to keep control of our own health and happiness for an entire lifetime, we still couldn't avoid the winter. Our parents would age and die; our friends would undertake minor acts of betrayal; the machinations of the world would eventually weigh against us. Somewhere along the line, we would screw up. Winter would quietly roll in....

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"In our relentlessly busy contemporary world, we are forever trying the defer the onset of winter. We don't ever dare to feel its full bit, and we don't dare to show the way that it ravages us. A sharp wintering, sometimes, would do us good. We must stop believing that these times in our life are somehow silly, a failure of nerve, a lack of willpower. We must stop trying to ignore them or dispose them. They are real, and they are asking something of us. We must learn to invite winter in."

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That's what her new book is about, May says: "learning to recognize the process, engage with it mindfully, and even to cherish it. We may never choose to winter, but we can choose how."

I recommend this wise and beautiful text for those going through their own wintering...which I expect may be a lot of us now, facing the life-altering consequences imposed by a global pandemic.

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As the Great Wheel turns from winter to spring, I've been contemplating my own winterings and the gifts they have given me, over and over. Those gifts are going to be useful now as we cope with unimaginable challenges ahead. Eager for springtime's warmth and sun, I celebrate each flower, each lamb, each foal affirming the steady turning of the seasons....

But I'm also grateful for the dark and cold, and the lessons of slowness, of quiet, of healing.

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Wintering by Katherine May

Words: The passage above is from Wintering: How I Learned to Flourish When Life Became Frozen by English novelist/memoirist Katherine May (Penguin/Random House, 2020). The poem in the picture captions is from Fugitive Colours by Scottish poet Liz Lochhead (Polygon, 2016). All rights reserved by the authors.

Pictures: Our local herd of Dartmoor ponies, many of them pregnant with this year's foals. I love encountering them on walks with Tilly, grazing on the village Commons and roaming the hills behind my studio.

Comments

One foal is out in the world with us now. Spring always comes.

I've got some lovely pictures of that darling first foal. I'll post them soon!

This feels very appropriate right now... put this way, this global pandemic really is a wintering for me, and thinking about it this way helps me feel more connected to the natural world and my local community.

This morning my neighbour appeared outside the window of my writing studio and said: "When are you going to stop lighting fires, Ben? It's pegging-out season now."

Apparently the smoke from my little stove had been stopping her from hanging her washing out. I offered my apologies, put out the fire, and carried on writing with somewhat chilly fingers.

This, more than anything, has announced to me that spring has arrived.

In This Winter of My Life

In this winter of my life,
when I should be dust
between the floorboards,
when the grace of snow
should be drifting
on to my coffin
like talc, like mites,
like forsythia flowers
in a high wind,
when night should wrap around me
like a shroud,
I have found a new love.
He is even older than I,
but we sit of an evening,
listening to Bach,
discussing the maps
of Nantucket sea lanes,
the social conventions
of Jane Austen novels,
how to cook a pork loin,
where to shelter from the Virus,
or take the dog for a walk.
We laugh, we hold one another,
we make puns into the closing dark.
It is not courage,
but how we lived
before we got old,
and after.


©2020 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

So beautiful, and yes so utterly appropriate right now, thankyou :)

Thank you for this recommendation and review -- I am adding this book to my list... I suspect that I have been Wintering all my life...

Good one, Jane. Hopeful. Helpful.

Being a fan of winter, I prefer a different metaphor: 'The Grumps'; in other words being grumpy. whether The Grumps manifest spontaneously or are imposed from outside forces such as viruses, cash-flow problems or any other negative happening, they force you to take stock and consider the present status of your life and what you hope it'll be in the future.

On a fascile and horribly vain note, The Grumps descended on me very recently when I shaved off the beard I've had for many years. When I'd committed 'beardicide' in the past, I've always been pleasantly surprised by the younger looking man who stared back at me from the bathroom mirror, but this time there was just this old bloke with double chins, a turkey neck and a down-turned rat-trap mouth that looked like it'd forgotten how to smile.

Needless to say I've decided to grow my beard again; it's bad enough being reminded that I'm no longer in the first flush of youth by young shop assistants who ask if I need help carrying a small loaf of bread back to my car, without also having to acknowledge that the old git staring back at me from the mirror when I brush my teeth in the morning is actually my ageing self.

Considering all the woes of the world, controlling those beard hairs that decide to grow up my nostrils and threaten to pierce my brain, is a small price to pay for the peace of mind given by hiding at least part of my face behind a hairy mask.

Thanks, Stuart. I read it to Peter and he nodded, a good sign.

Jane

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