A funny thing has happened lately. People have begun to ask me about winter. I live in a part of the world where winter is snowy and dark and I share a lot about it on Instagram. Apparently enough to make me a spokesperson for the cold season. So people have been asking me why I love it so much, what it is that I’m seeing, and if I can help them see it too (because they basically hate it).
I wasn’t sure what to do with these questions. The thought of giving advice, you know, trying to cheer people up about it, showing them the bright side of winter.
Because I’m not looking at the bright side. I’m not trying to be positive. I don’t have to, this is just how winter hits me. Like something incredibly beautiful and valuable. Magical, at times.
So I have no advice, but I can say something about why I love it.
First of all, I actually love all the seasons. I love the way the landscape changes and my everyday life with it. I love when the elements make themselves know, rain against my skin; sun in my eyes, wind and snow pounding the walls of the cottage. I rarely find myself complaining about any of it, I just … enjoy it. Intensely. There are few things I enjoy more.
Which maybe says something about me. I tend to turn to the non-human world for joy and beauty, safety and belonging. Always have. Early trauma might play a part in it – the fucked up human relationships of my childhood – and if so it’s a true gift, this turning towards the natural world and the way my senses seem to have attuned to it.
Like darling Yeats said, “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper”.
When it comes to winter, my senses are pretty darn sharp. It’s a full on love story.
First of all the beauty.
I live in the countryside and we get proper snow in the winter. That helps. Snow is magic – not the brown slush you get in the city, I mean the white stuff. I’m in awe of how the world changes when it falls. How the landscape of summer and fall all of a sudden is completely different. It’s not just that it looks different, it smells different, it sounds different.
Have you walked through a forest in heavy snowfall and noticed the world fall absolutely quiet around you? (Because falling snow muffles all sounds.) Have you noticed how snow sounds under your feet? The high-pitched squeak of really cold snow, or the rubbery thump of snow about to melt.
Have you woken up after a night of mist to a world of pure silver? Every surface, every single twig covered in ice crystals, the very air shimmering.
Have you seen ancient fir trees come to rest under thick blankets of snow; tall white sentinels of the forest? Or supple young birches yielding to the weight, bending and forming snowy arcs for you to walk beneath.
If you had, you’d love it like I do. (Oh, come on!)
The colours have me swooning. The pale pinks and turquoise of a cold sunrise. The steely grey of the lake before it freezes, the dark green – bordering on black – of the forest in the distance. The blue hours in late afternoon. You don’t get these colours in the summer.
Up north where I am, summer season is drenched in light, no darkness at all, not even in the middle of the night (which is another kind of magic). So winter is when you really get to see the stars here, and the moon in its full radiance. The way it lights up a whole landscape, enough to light you through the forest even, casting shadows almost as sharp as sunlight. It’s mesmerizing.
Bringing my kid outside into some field where there are no artificial lights, lying back in the deep snow and watching the stars above, the spotted trail of the Milky Way, every now and then obscured by the white cloud of our breaths in the cold. That’s plain magic to me.
All this beauty, the strangeness of it all, it speaks to the artist in me. It speaks to the awestruck child still alive inside.
Yes, the cold temperatures mean trouble in so many ways. Cars won’t start, little hands freezing, icy roads. But it also makes me feel alive. It’s real. It’s a world where humans don’t call the shots. If you go outside in 30 below zero you better pay attention or you’re going to get hurt.
(The cold is no laughing matter for people who don’t have a home, I’m aware of it. But that’s a whole different conversation and the cold is neither to blame, nor possible for us to change. Homelessness is a political issue.)
Since I have a warm home, I love the sensation of cold. I love stepping outside to get firewood. I love breathing in that sharp, fresh air. I love how my cheeks turn pink (and yeah, ok, then my face gets so stiff I almost drool when I speak). I also love lighting candles everywhere, staying inside and getting cozy.
Summer seems to call for a different kind of energy, a bursting, buzzing kind. Winter has me turning inwards. It speaks to me about cycles, about rest and activity, about creation and gestation. Bears hibernate, trees stop growing, days get shorter. I want to take a cue from that.
I like the feeling of moving with the cycles of the earth, along with animals and the rest of nature. I’m no different, none of us are. We all need a season of slow.
But if I wanted to stay busy all year around, if I wanted efficiency and ease, I’d probably hate winter too. Because it’s none of that. It’s not comfortable or efficient. It’s something else entirely.
Speaking of cold, I will end with one piece of advice after all: Dress properly. For the love of God, don’t whine about the cold if you’re outside in sub-zero temperatures dressed in nylon stockings, or if you’re not even wearing a hat. We can’t enjoy anything if we’re freezing. (Yes, I shout at strangers in the street not dressing properly, but only when I’m in my car and they can’t hear me.)
Enjoy what’s rest of this winter. And if you can’t, let’s make a date for next winter. I’ll take you on the kick-sled with me, we’ll go out on the lake, listen to the song of the ice, drink some hot chocolate and watch the sunset. And you won’t be able to resist any longer. Deal?