Signs of spring
From the gutter to the stars...

The alchemy of wintering

Gerda by Edmund Dulac

Following on from yesterday's post:

In her new book Wintering, Katherine May discusses the dark, frozen seasons we pass through in life, and how we survive and even thrive in them, accepting the unique gifts that they give us. Here in the northern hemisphere, nature is moving from winter to spring -- but the consequences of a global pandemic (the isolation of lock-down, the loss of work and income, the trials of illness, the anxiety caused by an uncertain future) is a form of "wintering" shared by millions all over the world. Embracing this wintertime of the psyche, absorbing the lessons of slow, pared-down days, focusing our technology-fractured attention on what is essential, might allow us to turn the straw of crisis into the magical gold of transformation: healing our broken connection to the natural world and our place within it. 

Wm Heath Robinson Thumbelina"Our knowledge of winter is a fragment of childhood," writes May, "almost innate: we learn about it in the surprising cluster of novels and fairy tales that are set in snow. All the careful preparations that animals make to endure the cold, foodless months; hibernation and migration, deciduous trees dropping leaves. This is no accident. The changes that take place in winter are a kind of alchemy, an enchantment performed by ordinary creatures to survive: dormice laying on fat to hibernate; swallows navigating to South Africa; trees blazing out the final weeks of autumn. It is all very well to survive the abundant months of the spring and summer, but in winter we witness the full glory of nature flourishing in lean times.

"Plants and animals don't fight the winter; they don't pretend it's not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximising scant resources, carrying out brutal acts of efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that's where transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Kay Nielsen

"Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season when the world takes on a sparse beauty, and even the pavements sparkle. It's a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order....

Strawberries in the Snow by Arthur Rackham

"Doing those deeply unfashionable things -- slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting -- are radical acts these days. This is a crossroads we all know, a moment when you need to shed a skin. If you do, you'll expose all those painful nerve endings, and feel so raw that you'll need to take care of yourself for a while. If you don't, then that old skin will harden around you.

"It's one of the most important choices you'll ever make."

She Kissed the Bear on the Nose by John Bauer

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).

Wintery fairy tale art from the Golden Age of Illustration: "Gerda and the Reindeer" by Edmund Dulac, "Thumbelina" by William Heath Robinson, "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" by Kay Nielsen, "Strawberries in the Snow" by Arthur Rackham, and "She Kissed the Bear on the Nose" by John Bauer.