Six months ago, I made a break. Week by week, it had become clear that the place I was working was no longer the right place for me to be. So I left. Leapt into the foggy arroyo the pandemic has opened up in so many lives.
At first, I worked. I took a writing class. I experimented with different forms of self-expression. But I could not write. Eventually, I stopped creating. Stopped trying. What was the point? Nothing mattered. Day upon day, the same gray sameness. No future. Only the present and the past. Laboring to meet the most basic needs. Food. Cleanliness. Occasional community service.
But there was also reading, boosted in large part by the Little Free Library I started in my driveway. New books coming into my sphere, a drive to hurry up and read books so I could get them out in the library, an obsession with used and remainder book sales.
I read about social justice issues and growled with anger. I read about history and tried to put things into perspective. I read memoirs and experienced different lives. I read classics and wondered how I’d managed to miss them. I read stories and marveled at the dance of imagination that could create worlds more true than the one we lived in.
And I read “Wintering.”
I’d read an interview with the author, Katherine May, and was drawn to the book. I posted about it online. I tried to buy a copy – backordered everywhere.
Miraculously, the book appeared on my porch that very day, courtesy of a friend who’d likewise been intrigued by the book and had purchased several copies to give as gifts.
The author explains “wintering” as:
a season of cold. It is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast in the role of an outsider. Perhaps it results from an illness or a life event such as a bereavement or the birth of a child; perhaps it comes from a humiliation or failure. Perhaps you’re in a period of transition and have temporarily fallen between two worlds. Some winterings creep upon us more slowly, accompanying the protracted death of a relationship, the gradual ratcheting up of caring responsibilities as our parents age, the drip-drip-drip of lost confidence. Some are appallingly sudden, like discovering one day that your skills are considered obsolete, the company you worked for has gone bankrupt, or your partner is in love with someone else. However it arrives, wintering is usually involuntary, lonely, and deeply painful.
But she goes on to explain the consoling fact of the matter, that wintering is inevitable:
We like to imagine that it’s possible for life to be one eternal summer and that we have uniquely failed to achieve that for ourselves. We dream of an equatorial habitat, forever close to the sun, an endless, unvarying high season. But life’s not like that. Emotionally, we’re prone to stifling summers and low, dark winters, to sudden drops in temperature, to light and shade. Even if by some extraordinary stroke of self-control and good luck we were able to keep control of our own health and happiness for an entire lifetime, we still couldn’t avoid the winter. Our parents would age and die; our friends would undertake minor acts of betrayal; the machinations of the world would eventually weigh against us. Somewhere along the line, we would screw up. Winter would quietly roll in.
One of the hardest “adulting” things I’ve had to deal with was the shift from school, with its pattern of endings and new beginnings, to the working world, with its infinite timeline of sameness, one week following the next and the next and the next, a jumble of Mondays and Fridays and Sunday night dread. I need seasonality in my life. I need beginnings and middles and ends. I can’t do infinite growth. I need the blazing senescence of autumn, the defiant energy that the cold of winter triggers in my soul. I need for one door to close and another to open.
In “Wintering”, the author pulls in a quote from the school of wisdom that we humans are a part of the natural world, and that our physical and mental health are tied to its seasons, though she frames it in the context of ritual:
I am reminded yet again of the quiet value of ritual in my life, and of the words of D.H. Lawrence: “We must get back into relation: vivid and nourishing relation to the cosmos and the universe . . . We must once more practice the ritual of dawn and noon and sunset, the ritual of kindling fire and pouring water, the ritual of the first breath and the last.”
These last months have been one long, formless mass of time. Days run into weeks and into months before I notice. Suddenly the sun is in a different position in the sky, belying the unseasonably warm weather. Suddenly the morning has turned to afternoon and the light is growing dim.
With a push towards friluftsliv from a news article encouraging outdoor socialization during the pandemic, I resolve to bundle up and sit outside with my coffee to greet the dawn. Sunrise at 7:14 a.m. Temperature 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Over my pajamas, I pull on a sweatshirt and windbreaker, lifting the hoods up over a knit hat with ear flaps. I run hot water in a travel mug to warm it before filling it with coffee. I don mittens, step out onto my porch with the coffee, lay a folded towel on the metal chair out there, sit down, and tuck a blanket around my legs.
6:45 a.m. The sky is already blue-gray to the east with hints of pink in the clouds. A light breeze blows, chilling my bare ankles above my slippers, causing the wheels on a bicycle wind spinner in the yard to gently turn and squeak. All the roofs of the houses on the block are white with frost.
Several dogs around the neighborhood bark now and again. A train roars by on the tracks three-quarters of a mile away. Another train somewhere sounds its horn. The heat kicks on at the house across the street, sending up a plume of steam.
The clouds are warming to an orange-yellow, turning the blue sky at the horizon a bit greenish near the point where the sun will appear. A rabbit runs across the yard. The squirrels must still be sleeping. The birds, too. The air is silent. No people on the sidewalk, no cars in the street.
The trees are no longer the same tone as the sky, brown on gray-blue. They have become distinct – black frames for the warmth of orange and pink.
I don’t actually see the sun rise. My view of the horizon is obscured in town. But I feel my pupils contract as the light quickly strengthens.
A new day has begun.
I stand up, gather my blanket, and go inside to write.
Copyright 2020 by Katie Bradshaw