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Winter in The Cold

January 22, 2021
I love leaving wild bird seed out in the winter. We get lots of blue jays, cardinals, and woodpeckers, and they love the stuff.

I discovered a wonderful series on YouTube this past week. It centers on the life of a small, young family living a largely “off the grid” life in the forests of Sweden, in a tiny, rustic cabin with no electricity (they’re able to upload their videos through a single solar charger). 

While it’s fun to watch people live much like they would have one hundred and fifty years ago, albeit with important improvements like good dental care and antibiotics, I found that as I was scrolling through their archive of videos, looking for inspiration, I was almost exclusively attracted to their winter clips. Scenes of wood-burning stoves and tea kettles, thick frostings of snow and sparkling streams with ice crusted near the banks, woolen sweaters, smoky breath, early sunsets, and deep sleeps.

I realized how much the winter is like church for me, and embodies so much of the sacred and holy that not only carries us through the rest of the year, but helps us build foundations for a meaningful life.

Our backyard after a snowstorm.

Because the cold months are the quiet months. The contemplative months. We think more about our place in the world, make New Year’s resolutions, vow to cut the poisonous and gratuitous out of our lives. 

With so much silence, stillness, the sounds we do hear are clear and distinctive: the caw of a warbler, the snap of a branch beneath a heavy boot. Winter’s music is heavy with percussion, and it’s sounds are sparse and artsy. It’s a spoken haiku, as opposed to the riotous symphonic pieces that characterize the other seasons.

But as the moon rises on a cold, winter’s night, that haiku often becomes a soft, acoustic love song. More babies are made in the winter than at any other time in the year, so it’s a season of intimacy, too. The solitude of the crisp day becomes an evening made for warm hands and close bodies. It’s a much needed interval for both lovers and philosophers – the life-makers and the sense-makers.​

The 1905 wood-burning stove that sits in the center of our living room.

​Winter’s smells are sharp and masculine in the outdoors. Clean. They’re tinged with pine and minerals, and the plain, fresh air cuts like a razor. While fresh and exhilarating, going outdoors in the cold months is not for the faint of heart. It takes a helluva lot more than sunscreen to brave the weather. If you live in a place where the temperatures drop below zero, there’s almost no amount of layering that will keep your eyes from tearing, your fingers and toes from getting numb. Ears may burn with the cold even when covered with a hat. It can be painful just to breathe. 

But unable to resist the draw, we sled, build snowmen, let the snowflakes fall onto our tongues, or put our tongues to a cold piece of metal, where it gets stuck. Frostbite is a bitch, too. Winter is nothing if not precarious.

Ah, but then we come indoors – maybe to a roaring fire, or just some good ole charmless, miraculous central heating. The interior elements of winter are decidedly feminine, I think. Its’ scents are nourishing and sexy – aromas of cinnamon, cooked apples, cedar. Our cheeks and lips redden from the contrast of heat and cold, giving a girl the kind of flush written about in romance novels. Soft instrumentals and full-bodied wine, preferably red or mulled, and a good long book that’ll last you for hours…or a great conversation. That’s the stuff not only of falling in love, but of making a close friend.

And winter is the time to snuggle a child and drink hot cocoa, make wish lists, and celebrate not merely the sun, but the candle, the gaslight, the bright holiday bulbs. We wear soft blankets and full body pajamas with cozy slippers, take long, hot baths, and watch the firelight dance until our eyelids flutter with drowsiness. ​

My girls on Christmas Eve some years ago.

On a winter’s night, we have the sublime pleasure of having to warm the bed with own body heat, shivering until our comforters let go of their chill. The night wind blows unfettered by the thick mane of leaves that cover most trees during the spring, summer, and fall. Bare branches scrape against our windows in chorus with the hoot of an owl. In dead of night, the winter is an old, witchy woman. She whispers stories about wolves and ghosts, making you believe you heard something sinister outside, just beneath your bedroom window, or saw a specter in a pane of glass. Nearly all of the most hair-raising horror stories utilize the winter. With everyone shut in, there are fewer people around to hear you scream.

I snapped this on my morning walk. I keep expecting to find a body in that field.

But to me, the best part of winter is what she promises, assuming we have the grit and imagination to see her through.

Winter either tells us to think or get stronger with each hardship she presents. She provides fewer distractions, and prepares us for the opportunities that spring and summer may offer. It’s a time of bare bones and waiting. Lost hope and anticipation. Under the leaves and the ice and the thick socks and the goose pimples, is a new world awaiting discovery. 

Here’s the “off the grid” winter homage I was telling you about – you’re going to love this!

  1. You were right. The V-log is amazing. Enjoyed your discussion of winter as well.

  2. I spend some of my most grateful moments watching the birdfeeder. Bluejays, cardinals and porch fives frequent the feeder in the winter. So do gangs of chickadees and squirrels to 🙏🙏🙏

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