I started this post around Imbolc and I purposely waited to finish it because, well, I was skeptical about not feeling hopeless. See, inevitably at some point every winter, sometimes in mid-January, sometimes earlier, I will go through bouts of what I can only describe as dull, sort of distant hopelessness and depression. I’m so sick of the cold, the wind, THE SNOW, the very season itself is nothing more to me by that time than a major inconvenience and source of worry and struggle and I just sort of start tumbling down this stairway, clawing upwards a few steps, falling back ten more… It is a cycle that has repeated itself over and over for years, since childhood actually, at varying degrees of hopelessness each year making some years just sort of bad and others down right miserable.
Please note that this is completely different than being generally pissed off that it is snowing (yet again) and grumpy about winter like some people get grumpy about rain. LOL. It is a given that I’ll be grumpy about winter. I hate winter. Yet, you’ll never hear me complain about “this damn heat” in the middle of July. I might say – “man, it is really hot today” followed by “I think I’ll go for a run and sweat a lot” but that’ll be the extent of my comments about any other season related to temperature, precipitation, etc.
Over my life I’ve tried to methodically pinpoint what begins the fall and fix it. Is it the cold, the snow itself, the worry of loss of electricity or travel? Is it just that I’m cold blooded and my body cannot stand temperatures lower than freezing? Despite all the practical issues with winter I usually conclude the latter reason simply because cold seems to cut straight through me. It makes me feel small and insignificant. It reminds me how little control we truly have over our lives sometimes. It beats me. I don’t like to be beaten.
So it has been extremely surprising to me that this winter of all winters, my first full year of living very near and like the place where I was raised weather-wise (my hometown is about 450 additional feet above sea level and slightly to the east of here), I have not felt hopeless. Have I felt angst, irritation and said more than once – well, this fucking sucks? Yes, absolutely! I was especially saying it a week ago when we were socked in the face with a major Nor’easter in the fucking middle of March. And I voice those feelings explicitly….lol. But, those feelings are different than the heavy, empty feelings that I’m used to.
I’m sure the causes for this are many and I’m sure that it could be different next year, or the year after that… I’m much happier with where I am in terms of home first of all. I’ve lived in many places throughout my life, this is the closest to how I lived as a child and it has been a dream of mine since that childhood to live on a farm. In adulthood I’ve mostly lived either “in town” – by which I mean in a suburb sort of setting in a small sized city, just outside of town (not in city limits but still relatively close to neighbors and only a mile and a half from the dreaded “Walmart plaza”) or, most recently, in a poor excuse for a “housing development” complete with an incompetent HOA and crazy neighbors, including one (still cursed BTW) bitch that threatened my cat and another that threw their trash out their front door to let it roll down the hill and into the ditch by my driveway. So, perhaps I’ve just “come home” and it is a matter of familiarity.
The other factor is the people. Having lived in a college and highly professionally transient community for over 20 years, I had become used to the “every person for himself/herself” mentality. I actually don’t even consider it a community. It is a place and that’s all. There just isn’t that connection there that makes it cohesive. In moving, I have rediscovered that connection. Yes, everyone knows what you do and probably what you actually do doesn’t match what they know because small towns are like that game of telephone…everything sounds different than reality by the time it works its way through the gossip chain. But, everyone also knows when you need a hand. And, more than that they actually give a shit. My neighbors are amazing and they make me feel safer than I ever felt even with houses 200 feet away from me.
Then there is the unavoidable immersion in it. The season, that is. When you live on a farm you really don’t have a choice to just stay inside. There are animals that absolutely need taken care of whether it is 50 degrees or 5 below. And, unfortunately, they need much more care when it is 5 below. So, even if some crazy storm happens to hit on a weekend (lucky) and I choose to not do anything else on a given awful day, I still have to at least twice that day make my way to the barn, feed, muck, check on the well-being of these animals in my care. There is NO CHOICE in this matter for me. And when there isn’t a choice I think that somehow, our minds deal with stuff better? Like that phrase we use: it is what it is… Well, it is fucking cold and miserable and it totally sucks and yes, you have to get out there in it and get some shit done so…on we go.
This also speaks to the mere fact that actually going outdoors IS in every way usually better than locking yourself in your house until whatever it is that is bothering you passes. When I breath the outside air (even if it stings my lungs from cold), and work with the land, care for those that depend on me (who happen to live outdoors) I’m somehow healed from that deeply troubling inability to cope with the season. Even if the healing is temporary, it spurs me on to the next day.
And as an observer of the natural world who is continually impressed by it, even as an adult, there is always something out there that will inevitably make me pause. It might be the snow and little whisker ice droplets on the black horse’s nose (so pretty), or his breath in the sunlight, the color of a blue jay against the snow, the seemingly endless optimism of the chickadees at the feeder, how fucking absolutely quiet it is on a clear, frigid night after a big snow, like the entire world is pausing before the next breath as if to acknowledge the sacredness of nature itself… I can’t get that by avoiding life outdoors in my most hated season.
As for winter and now, we did get another layer of snow last night so I woke up to a little white blanket on the Eve of Spring. But, the time is near for winter to pack bags and hit the highway. The robins are back and when I travel off the mountain to work there is a hint of green in the woods near our office. Until next year winter…I won’t miss you, so don’t worry about getting back on time.