So many folks view Winter and Winter Skills with angst, depression, and stress. Winter skills or not, Winter is, undoubtedly, a hard time. It doesn’t matter if you are a deer or a human. Winter culls out the weak to make room for Springs new growth. It wasn’t too long in our own history that we measured our lives in how many winters we’ve seen instead of years. The cold makes our joints stiff, the snows turn everything white, the bare limbs and gray sky constantly remind us that this is not the time to bear fruit or waste precious calories.
Winter is the time of the Elders. Wisdom keepers in our community tell their stories around the campfire. We’ve replaced our Wisdom keepers and the campfire with television and the internet, but good movies can be found that touch upon the timeless wisdom of the ages and the deep connection with the Earth we all once enjoyed. If you want real story from the masters of winter survival go outside. Look at the other animals our size and see what they are doing in the winter.
Bear is asleep. She has fed all fall in preparation for this time to enter the dream world. She will give birth in her den and awaken in the spring accompanied by her cubs. The deer are yarding up, finding the warmest beds on the loftiest reed canary grasses in the full sun and hunkering together beneath the slightly warmer air of the hemlock stands in the bitter nights. Coyote covers longer distance and makes more deer kills in the winter, but is not above searching the muskrat dens and vole hotspots in his travels. You can immediately tell coyote tracks by the efficient way they dot the landscape. Calories, already sacred and hard earned in the other three seasons are even harder to come by in winter, and even more sacred.
We can learn a lot from those experts of winter survival who live out beyond the comfort and conveniences that make our bellies round and our vigor soften. From the Coyote we are reminded of winters demands and the hard decisions that have to be made in order to see through to another spring. Hard, but efficient work to make sure we have enough fire wood to keep the family warm, enough funds to keep the lights on and enough forethought to come in to the season of cold with a full pantry, regardless of how well the garden did that year. From the deer we learn the power of community and awareness. We back our cars in to spaces so our windshield faces south and we don’t have to scrape ice. We work together to increase our efficiency. While some are shoveling, others are stacking wood, and still others are making the warm food to keep us strong enough to tell our days stories around the fire. From the bear we can learn to accept, even welcome the deep silence and introspection that Winter encourages. Too many folks seem terrified of being completely alone and quiet with themselves. The long nights and short days of winter seem to ask us simply to live a life that makes us comfortable with who we are, even in the solace of our den.
In many ways, Winter is a metaphor for how we view our own mortality and the sacredness of life. The cold makes our joints stiff, the snow turns our hair white, and we must become wise in the ways of efficiency and survival. In our modern world, a lapse in Winter pragmatism might put us a few months behind in the bills, in the real world, we would provide our precious calories as fuel for those who made better decisions.
Winter isn’t a time of fear. It is a time of gratitude and introspection. We are blessed with these long and cold nights to revisit from a place of peace and wisdom the hard earned lessons of the year past. We are also given this time to heal and to grow in to the person we will emerge as in the Spring. I have seen forty six winters. I am determined to share many more with the land that supports me and those who love and teach me.