I go into the wilderness and rediscover the home within.
- China Galland
I was walking by the river the other day. It was a beautiful day -- sunny and unseasonably warm for a Mid-Atlantic mid-winter. The only green in sight are the evergreens. The grass is brown. The deciduous trees are naked. There's not a vine in sight. Oddly enough, the herb garden in the middle of town has some kind of ornamental purple plants that have survived in the winter. I have no idea if this is their normal behavior, but it certainly feels weird. Everything else has died away.
For the most part the days have been grey, so this sunny day felt like a huge gift to me. Grey days make me feel a bit blue in winter. When there is sun, no matter how cold it is, I tie on my hiking shoes and head outside to walk briskly in the sunshine and watch my steaming breath pour out into the cold air.
The skies are so blue and the clouds so huge and white and puffy I'd begun to wonder what season it really was. It was one of those sublimely beautiful days that do not feel quite real, but enable us to feel more fully alive than usual -- simply because they feel so unexpectedly good. And as I walked, I began to feel fully alive.
And this was a huge surprise for me. But, then, days like this almost always catch us by surprise.
Winter is one of those seasons that so often feels like we are sleeping -- but in our culture we work against the natural cycles and tend to push as hard through the winter months and to be as productive as we are the rest of the year, when what we should really be doing is allowing ourselves to lie a bit fallow so that we can rest before another growing season begins. We need more sleep in the winter when there is less light and many of us get sick. We need time to reflect, to draw near to our hearth fires and be quiet. To come home to ourselves.
And it's easy for us to do because it feels like a wilderness outdoors. Snow, ice, sleet, freezing rain, icy chill days and nights, and winds that bite the skin as they blow through can feels as rough and uninviting as a desert or scrubland. Winter days make many of us feel like there is anything we'd rather do than go outdoors.
But on this winter day I found myself being drawn outside. The air was brisk but far from freezing. The winds were more like breezes. And the sun was shining so brightly it felt almost warm on my face. It felt good to be outdoors in the fresh air and to leave the stale indoor air behind for awhile. I was outside walking for a good, long time in the cold. And on my way back, I looked down into the brown grass and saw a golden yellow face smiling back at me. A dandelion beginning to open...there on a winter's day in mid-January. I breathed deeply and felt like springtime was filling up my tired wintry spirit. Suddenly filled with energy, I came home and put the flower in a small vase, where hours later I walked by and it had fully opened there on my windowsill. Meanwhile, instead of being productive, I used the energy to ponder some things that have been knocking around the corners of my mind.
I am reminded of a day last winter when I wrote a poem that begins,
There is forsythia blooming today --
Four little bright yellow blossoms on a wild branch
That has reached through the fence between
My neighbor's yard and mine --
A long, trailing branch....
I just saw her dancing on the breeze
I remember being surprised that day also. And smiling deep down in my soul. And writing in my journal with wonder, how in the middle of such cold, a sunny day or two can bring out flowers in winter.