An Ode to Winter
Updated: Nov 4, 2021
I live on top of a mountain in Virginia, and snow has been on the ground here since early January. My high schoolers haven't had a full week of school all month (which has been HELLA frustrating in gearing up for their exams, but that's for another post). I have been having the hardest time waking up in the morning as it's so cold in my corner room, and only the earliest morning light peaks through the west-facing windows. It's all changing, though, as everything in life always does, and always before we have time to catch up. It was roughly 50° today and will jump to 60° tomorrow. I'd be shocked if it didn't melt what's left of the snow, and I have a strong feeling we won't see any more this winter season. Normally I am itching for this moment - spring fever kicks in roughly a week after the new year, no joke - but for some reason I am clinging tightly to the last breaths of winter this year.
I have a hypothesis about this: Without fail, sometime in the first few weeks of January, we will see a few days of 60's or even 70's here in Virginia. Though there's always the tiny gut-given anxiety of global warming surrounding those days (again, for another post), I can't help but feel immediate excitement and the need to literally run out into the sunshine and do everything outdoors until the weather balances out again. Spring fever hits hard, but I suppose this winter season failed to deliver the thing that usually brings it on: there was no fluke. It was a mild Christmas season, and then nothing but cold, and snow, and gray, and wind. The fireplace has been going every night, along with my candles. I've been donning turtlenecks and long, warm socks on the daily, indulging in slightly-sweet coffee and homemade cookies and bread, always needing warmth in the form of food, clothing, sensation...any way I can get it.
Which brings me to a second hypothesis: I started reading up on the concept of "hygge." It's been a trend for quite some time now, but its origins are as simplistic and humble as you could possibly hope for them to be, because that is the entire purpose. If you don't know, hygge is a Danish term for the ultimate comforts of life - but especially of winter life. Bringing out the warm socks, cozy blankets, sweet drinks and treats, lighting candles and sitting by the fireplace with loved ones is the epitome of hygge. Though I've known this for a while, I really made it a goal to implement this year because, as alluded to above, I typically despise winter and constantly wish it away. Therefore, it's wasted away. Why not try to find at least a little joy in these dark days?
Another influence for this season was The Magnolia Journal - yes, from Joanna Gaines of HGTV (call her basic/overrated all you want, I love this woman and everything she touches). A new issue comes out every season, and the synchronicity they hold with the meaning of each passing phase is more fully embraced than anything I've come across before. I am such a seasonally-inclined person, too, so this kind of thing really makes me happy. Each issue in a year has a theme, and winter's is "resolve." She so beautifully describes in different ways on every page how the darkest, cruelest season is the time for us to find and build our resolve as humans, and as community. See it through, and make it worthwhile. Many of her tips also fall right in line with the hygge lifestyle because, after all, she is a home designer; utilizing the gift of steamy saltwater baths, investing in a good pair of slippers or a robe, clipping evergreen scraps to stick in vases for decoration, burning down every single pine-scented candle...it all becomes magic if you allow it. If you allow it.
I've never done that. I've never given winter a chance. Unless there is perpetual snow on the ground from December to February, unless we get a white Christmas, unless I get to go skiing as much as I want, I don't want it. And no matter how arbitrary or unimportant that mindset may seem, it becomes a lot deeper when you let a whole three to four months of the year absorb your vibrancy. I know I'm not the only one. We convince ourselves that we need to huddle up and stay inside fully hibernate, and that's fine...but why not make it enjoyable? Why have we bought into the idea that winter does not possess light, or lightness, or comfort and ease? It contains all of that and more, so long as we're willing to look for it. Sometimes that takes a little extra effort, but it's always worth doing.
And don't get me wrong, there are plenty of days in the stillness of January where I don't want to get out from the cocoon of blankets on my bed. I don't want to work, I don't want to be cold, there's no point - the activities I so deeply enjoy and can't wait to share on this blog: gardening, skating, generally being active, generally being outside...they're harder to do in the winter. No amount of candles or baths or warm socks are going to motivate me to do the things that want and need to be done. Shit, that goes for every season in different ways. But may I remind you...resolve.
It's synonymous with "determined;" to deal with successfully; to clear up. Having the resolve to move through harsh winters becomes a little lighter with these hygge ideals and tools and crafty advice from a wildly successful interior designer from Texas. The comforts keep us steady. But resolve comes from an entirely different realm. My third hypothesis, with a little backstory: I was taking a walk at dusk with my partner on this past Valentine's eve. Wet, mushy snow had been falling all weekend, school kept getting delayed and cancelled, and we were becoming antsy, so we decided to test the slick streets and walking paths. I thought we were going to head for a little walk around the neighborhood, but he led us deep into wooded areas where the paths became bike trails, and eventually we were on no trail at all. I hadn't eaten since breakfast, hadn't taken a sip of water all day, and I felt myself fading with the light. Tripping over twiggy little plants and sweating through all my layers, I thought about what it must be like to be a modern human hypothetically thrown out into the snow, asked to get around for longer than a day or two without dying. One day of poor habits and pure laziness, and this is all I can stand? A walk down a fire road in the dark?
But think about it, really: how much do we think we can stand? Of course I wasn't going to pass out or die there in the middle of a slushy nighttime stroll, but the experience did remind me in the most primal way of what cruelty nature, and winter, can bring - how necessary it is to take care in the midst of harsh times. That, my friends, is the morbid beauty of resolve, and of winter; they're one in the same. They cannot be separated if they are to be understood. And to reach way back to the purpose of this post - why I'm a little weepy over the end of this rough-edged season and how strange that feels to admit - I wanted to take a chance to reflect and soak it in, truly, before the dirty piles of snow are gone with their purer counterparts. I wanted to bid a proper farewell.
Trust me, friend, I'm ready for the nearing days of carving a dry, saltless road until it gets dark at 7:30 rather than 5. I can't wait for the warming sun to grace me once again, handing back my dearly-missed nose freckles. But I had to take the opportunity to celebrate the first winter I can remember where it felt completely peaceful and right to sit in the corner of our sagging couch with a pen and paper and a tall cup of coffee, to write a few letters to my friends scattered across the country - to sit with my thoughts and slowness of hand, and happily take from high noon to the setting sun to lick the envelopes and trudge through all the snow to reach our mailbox. I was as resolved to keep up with my letters as I was to actually get through the winter this year. I was as resolved to enjoy these past three months as I was to survive them. That change, in and of itself, is the entire reason we return to them each year.