This winter hasn’t felt as hard as I thought it would. Here it is mid-February and I’m longing for more snow, for more chances at winter sports and quiet evenings under a warm blanket with a good book. Perhaps because we’ve been forced into a kind of hibernation for the past year, we’re already used to hiding away indoors when the weather turns bitterly cold. Is a snow day really that different than any other day right now?
Also helping me weather both the season and the pandemic is Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, by Katherine May, who defines “wintering” as “a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider.” Since March 2020, much of the world has been wintering. May’s book could not have come at a better time.
Everyone winters. It’s unavoidable. We get sick. Loved ones die. We experience life changes and we need time to adjust to them. When May wrote this, I don’t think she envisioned all of us wintering at the same time, but here we are. May’s message is that we can use these down periods in our lives as opportunities to heal and come out of them stronger.
What’s more, the book is a pleasure to read. May’s voice is reassuring, experienced. She interlaces personal narrative with lessons she has learned from literature, religion, and other cultures on how to make the most of wintering. She explores the benefits of saunas during winter in Finland, hot geothermal baths in Iceland, and her own Polar Bear plunges in England. She finds lessons in Sylvia Plath’s poem “Wintering.” She goes to Stonehenge for the winter solstice to witness Druidic practices. She visits a Swedish church for the St. Lucia tradition on December 13 that celebrates Saint Lucia, the bearer of light. Some of these expeditions are more successful than others, but ultimately she finds what works for her, which I think is the point: May writes, “We must learn to invite the winter in. We may never choose to winter, but we can choose how.”
I found solace in Wintering. It’s a book that lets you off the hook: Winter is something that happens through no fault of your own and, yes, it’s okay to pamper yourself. Go ahead, sleep in, do less, drink more tea. This winter will end, eventually, and when it does, we’ll be ready for that, too.