Winter’s Kind and Fierce Light

I’ve always heard that, traditionally, winter is a time of darkness that is perfect for hibernating in our caves, real or envisioned, until spring comes and life can begin again.  Until the Solstice on December 21, this seems to be true enough.  We awake in darkness and it comes back far too early in the day.  But, beginning at about this time of year, early or mid-January, for me, winter becomes a time of searing bright light.

Part of the reason is that I live in an old house surrounded by many tall trees that offer shade in the midst of the burning New England summer. Only when the leaves drop away does light flow through my house, illuminating its colors and corners.  Outside, the light reflecting off the snow that covers my yard from December till March is blinding and I sometimes have to look away.

Every year, I plan to spend the cold season “recollecting,” as they say in the South, reviewing the past year and future options, planning, sitting quietly contemplating.  But for some reason, real life always seems to hit hardest in the winter. Both my parents died in the winter. Our family lost a job this past month. Last year a serious car accident shook my bones and sense of safety.  
At these times, I am very grateful for the extra light.  It reminds me that, though my soul may feel like retreating into twilight, the Earth is always full of brightness. Even more, this light can seem like the illumination of truth that is so often a part of challenging times.  It shines on the reality of great loss but also the knowledge that the sadness can be survived.  Suddenly, we see that the secret fear lurking within is greater than the real life risk.  It becomes clear that the creeping lack of faith in the basic goodness of the universe is never the whole story.

The light seems harsh, but it is really kind and gentle because it shows clearly what must be said and done. So often, when we are able to see our situation clearly, it becomes so much easier to cope with. The nagging sense that something is wrong that could blow up into a catastrophe is replaced by the certainty that, while we may not know exactly what the future will bring, at least we can comprehend what the present is and do the best we can with what we have. This brilliance is really what is needed so that we can then retreat into our winter sanctuaries to truly prepare for the coming year.

I have been thinking about what makes this winter different from others, not only for me, but for our country and our planet. One lie after another is toppling, whether it is an outdated belief that a person of color or a woman could not be elected President or taken seriously as a candidate or that our global financial system is sustainable when driven by unregulated greed. The void can now be filled by the light of truth.  The air seems clear and as if the next few months will be a time of promise.

Sixteen years ago, my winter was ended with the biggest personal transition of all when I gave birth. I went into labor during a blizzard and, when I came out of the hospital three days later, the sun had begun to awaken the Earth and spring had come. Every year, the sunlight melts the snow and it goes into the Earth to nourish the new life coming.  Truth is the same  – after it is seen and experienced, it goes into our souls and makes us grow.  The harsh light becomes the soft yellow glow of summer.  The radiance transforms into love and understanding and wisdom and knowledge.

I love the winter sun.

Snow for the Winter of Life

The older I get, the more I love the snow.  This winter, as more snow has fallen than in almost any winter on record, I hated what it did to the convenience in my life at first.  But now I see that each flake is a kiss from the hag, the Spirit of Winter, the old woman who presides over the deepening times of life, whenever they may occur.  She blesses us as we struggle with truths that become visible in the stark bone essence of the winter landscape, whether of the environment or of our souls.  She is the midwife of necessary endings and promises the hope of beginnings, however much they may or not be welcomed.  


Whether you are in the spring of life or nearing its end, snow has a message for you, for we all have times when we need the blessings of the Winter Hag.  She could leave us to our fates, but instead, like the good Mother that She is, she is present and makes herself known in these tiny drops of water, the very substance of life.


Snow is healing – it calms and quiets.  It has a soothing wisdom that does not proclaim, but instead drifts silently into consciousness, like a first snowfall on the grass.  When we are aching from loss, snow shows us how to be a balm for ourselves and others.


Snow honors and comforts the poorest.  Its beauty is for all.  It makes next spring’s crops grow as it brings nutrients to the soil of every farmer.   No one’s sorrows or needs, even our own, are too meager for snow’s ministrations.


Snow demands respect.  If its power in an avalanche or blizzard is ignored or belittled, its destruction can be devastating.  But these maelstroms are part of the earth and its atmosphere, just as upheaval is necessary in our own lives at times.  Snow requires us to honor all aspects of Her nature, and we learn that we must also honor our own. 


Snow knows how to be solitary – the single flake wafting down from the sky – and also one of many as a storm.  Especially in times of emotional winter, we must be alone to meet ourselves but also be able to then re-emerge into the company of others and begin to live again.


If you are lucky enough to live where it snows, go outside the next time the Hag of Winter breathes her blessings upon you.  Let her surround and embrace you with her cooling, strengthening, mysterious presence.  Learn from her.  If you live in a warmer climate, seek her anyway.  She is there for you.