I’m sitting at a table with five others. It’s Thursday evening, after a long work day. Tonight is our monthly winter artists/writers group. Everyone at the table is busily creating. Beside me, a writer sits with open notebook, pondering. On my right side a visual artist is doing a set of quick paintings as a warm-up. Someone else works in black watercolor paint on white paper, while another artists tears paper for a collage. We are turning inside; there is little conversation around the large table.
This is a back-to-work week, following the pleasures and frustration of the Holidays. Already the days we took off to play and visit seem distant. Two weeks have passed since the Solstice, and the days are strikingly brighter and longer. The sun, although still relatively low on the horizon, seems warmer.
This morning fog held fast just above the treetops, illumined lavender and lilac by the rising sun. At seven a.m. the temperature was 20F. When I headed to work at 8:50, the sun had burned away the fog, and it was 2F. Later in the day the temperature rose to the low 30’s; this weekend we will have rain. Fortunately, there is little change of prolonged freezing rain, the bane inherent in El Nino winters.
For me, turning inside often means slowing down to let in the outside, to establish myself in the waning tide of nature’s year. In January, seasonal change is almost imperceptible. Most days pass in deep cold, and occasional snow. The world seems frozen solid, until the thaw comes, ever so stealthily and briefly. Some years it does not arrive at all.
It will not be until February that the sun’s warmth has a strong effect on the icicles from our eves. By then, shadows will have lengthened across the landscape, casting a fierce blue light. Solar warmth will begin to melt snow away from tree trunks, and, here and there, the tunnels of mice, shrews, and voles will appear under the thinning snow.
Historically, January is an insular month here in Vermont, with mind numbing cold and frequent snow. Ten years ago we moved into our home on the third of January, in the midst of a Nor’easter, the snow and wind pummeling the moving crew. Yet, in the past few years the snow has moved, so that now February looms as the month of blizzard and deep snow pack. The sugar makers welcome the snow, which, although difficult to traverse, prolongs the flow of maple sap, supporting a good harvest.
I watch these changes, this progression of the seasons, from inside, then, when I am able, take to the quiet woods to see, hear, feel, smell, and taste them first hand, for winter, even in its quietude, is a feast for the senses. Each year, as my Polio legs weaken, these trips into the deep woods become more challenging, snowshoes growing more difficult to manage. The time may come, perhaps this year, when I will no longer be able to use them. Yet sojourns in Nature remain essential for me, times of replenishment and profound connection to the world of which we are all a part.
This Turning Within Time has traditionally been an opportunity to seek vision, to recharge, and to prepare for the demands of the seasons to come. It was a time to consider our experience and seek wisdom, to learn from the elders, and to share the sacred stories. The Ancestors and spirits seemed to fill the darkness, to be close and whisper advice and comfort. They are still here, although it is surely more difficult for us to slow down, seek solitude, or even sit quietly together in order to feel and hear them.
Of course, the spirits and Ancestors, the Holy Ones are always close at hand, except perhaps, when, as one of my beloved teachers asserted, they take vacations in the Bahamas. Perhaps winter is simply the time of year when we slow down, and turn inward, enough to be aware of them.