Three years ago right now, I picked up a book I’d heard almost nothing about . . . Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, by Katherine May . . . and it turned out to be the perfect book for me to be reading as 2020 came to a close. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d discover within its pages, but I was totally drawn to the book based on the title alone. Once “inside” those pages, I was delighted to find a memoir sprinkled with philosophy, explorations of nature, and strategies for coping with extreme winter conditions. I particularly appreciated the author’s explanations and acceptance of unhappiness and “wintering” as natural states of human life. In a society where “happiness” is always the goal, it’s refreshing to acknowledge those “fallow periods” in our lives — accepting them not as “failure” but as opportunities to adapt and overcome. 

It’s one of those books that I needed to purchase for my personal library . . . because I found so many things I wanted to underline and highlight. Three years later, I still pick up the book surprisingly often to re-read passages I’d “saved” that first time through. Here is one of my favorites, which seems particularly perfect to begin this month, this season . . .

Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximising scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.

Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season in which the world takes on a sparse beauty and even the pavements sparkle. It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order.

Doing those deeply unfashionable things — slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting — is a radical act now, but it is essential. This is a crossroads we all know, a moment when you need to shed a skin. If you do, you expose all those painful nerve endings and feel so raw that you’ll need to take care of yourself for a while. If you don’t, then that skin will harden around you. 

It’s one of the most important choices you’ll ever make.

— Katherine May, in Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

In this winter season of our lives . . .
Let’s look for the “sparse beauty” and the sparkling pavement.
Let’s slow down – even just a little bit.
Let’s allow our spare time to expand.
Let’s rest, and focus on getting enough sleep.

Let’s stop fighting our winters — and try to embrace them instead.

(And if you’re looking for a book to read this month – or during the deep months of winter to come – you might want to consider picking up this one.)


If you’re wondering what this “advent calendar” is all about, you can read my “intro” post here.