Sharing my learnings from the book, Wintering by Katherine May
Wintering by Katherine May
Sometimes you slip through the cracks: unforeseen circumstances like an abrupt illness, the death of a loved one, a break up, or a job loss can derail a life. These periods of dislocation can be lonely and unexpected. For May, her husband fell ill, her son stopped attending school, and her own medical issues led her to leave a demanding job. Wintering explores how she not only endured this painful time, but embraced the singular opportunities it offered.
A moving personal narrative shot through with lessons from literature, mythology, and the natural world, May’s story offers instruction on the transformative power of rest and retreat.
- Winter is inevitable. It follows autumn just as summer follows spring. In nature, winter is a time of retreat. As inevitable as winter are winter-like periods of life: times that feel bleak and cold and hopeless. Whether it’s as a result of illness, bereavement, job loss, or heartbreak, each of us will weather our own personal winters.
- Illness, upheaval, and anguish forced May out of her routine. She rested. She slowed down. She allowed herself to feel sad. She paid more attention to the world around her. She even began to find pleasure in this new way of living. She’d always been interested in the natural world and its rhythms. And so, in a period of her life that felt as bleak and harsh as winter, she began to look to that season for lessons. She noticed that, unlike humans, plants and animals don’t try to resist winter. They know that winter is very different from summer. So they adapt or hibernate. They gather their resources, rest, and regenerate. When the season has passed, they emerge, transformed.
- There’s a Finnish word, talvitelat, that has no direct English translation, and refers to the preparations Finns make ahead of winter. If you don’t live somewhere like Finland, where the winters are extreme, the idea of preparing for the season may strike you as less urgent. But even in milder climes, talvitelat can bring its own benefits.
- Preparing for winter shouldn’t mean pushing the cold away. Cold has healing properties: think of ice, applied to a burn. The Finns, who prepare so assiduously for winter, still embrace it. A popular winter tradition is to follow a steaming sauna with a naked roll in the snow or a jump in a frozen lake. The point of your preparations isn’t to avoid winter, but to gather the resources to face it.
- For animals, cold dark weather isn’t a nuisance but a signal to rest. Perhaps we should begin looking at it the same way.
- Throughout history, across cultures and religions, the winter solstice has coincided with important festivals. Whether it’s St. Lucy’s Day, Alban Arthan, or Christmas, there’s something especially potent about the rituals which occur around the time of the winter solstice. But any form of ritual connected to the calendar makes welcome space for us both to measure the passing of time and to pause and reflect. While summertime rituals are focused on celebration and festivity, those in wintertime are often focused on community and solidarity – recognizing that winter is a hard and brutal time. If we’re to come through it, we need to pull together and find ways to light up the dark.
- In popular culture, wolves are often associated with winter – and this association is far from positive. But the stereotype of the savage wolf is incorrect. Wolves live and travel in extremely devoted family packs. They’re loving partners and parents. Typically, they’re only driven to eat livestock in times of extreme scarcity.
- Naturalist Barry Lopez observes that wolves have a feast-or-famine mentality. For this reason, they’re one of only two animals that kill and consume more than they need; they’re always looking ahead to the next lean time. The other animal? Humans. We consume far more than we need to survive. We’re convinced that spending money will satiate our desires, and when it doesn’t, we spend more. Our impact on our environment has been nothing short of disastrous.
- In a world where almost everything can be seamlessly managed with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a card, it’s humbling to see how the weather can still bring us to a standstill. Slowness, playfulness, mindfulness, resilience: far from being inconvenient, the extremes of winter weather are a gift that allows us to reconnect with these qualities in ourselves.
- The sociobiologist E. O. Wilson classifies bees and ants as eusocial creatures, which cooperate in service of a common goal. Wilson believes humans are also innately eusocial, although complex political and economic factors may cause us to forget this. The real lesson we can learn from our fellow eusocial creatures? Working together, we can all survive lean winter seasons.
- In the wake of illness, career change, and family upheaval, the author learned to apply the lessons of the season to her own life. In essence, she learned “wintering.”
- Just like the season, our personal winters aren’t something to be overcome once and forgotten. They’re cyclical, endlessly returning. To someone in the depths of a particularly hard winter, this may be hard to hear. But there’s good news, too. Wintering is an acquired skill: each time you do it, you become better prepared for the next. Just because winter has unique challenges to overcome doesn’t lessen its unique joys. And at times when your winter feels too much to bear, remember that the hard work of winter is preparing you for the rebirth of spring