I live in the northern Minnesota where winter is long, cold, and dark. The snow and cold make everything difficult from starting cars and keeping the sidewalks clear, and the bulkiness of winter clothes impedes movement. I think we’ve all been annoyed by the experience of turning our heads to look at something and all we see is the inside of our hats.
But yet, not a lot of people move south. Don’t get me wrong, there are sometimes the squealing of moving van tires and joyful screams coming from cars heading south on I-94, and the retired set lock up their homes and trade Minnesota snows for Arizona sands for a few weeks, but the vast majority of us stay here and some people even, gasp, move here.
So why do some of us not only stay here, but actually love the weather where you keep a snow shovel by the back door and you have to cover your face when you take the dog out? It must be more than the fact that we have no poisonous snakes.
Something happens when the earth slowly goes dormant, gray, and silent. The snows come and everything freezes, cleaning the air and freezing our nose hairs. The earth no longer responds to our prodding and grooming. We are left with nothing to plant, nothing to grow.
When you live in a world of such darkness, it obliterates the outside world and forces you to focus inward. This makes some people uneasy; they fight the cold, they fight the darkness rather than relax into it and take advantage of the gift it brings.
Thomas Moore asks us to consider the dark side of our emotions. In his book, Care of the Soul, he writes:
“To care for the soul, we must observe the full range of all its colorings, and resist the temptation to approve only of white, red, and orange – the brilliant colors. The “bright” idea of colorizing old black and white movies is consistent with our culture’s general rejection of the dark and the gray.”
Winter forces us to retreat from the world and see what going on in the ol’ noggin. Many people use these short days and long nights to work on creative endeavors such as painting and needlework. Curling up on the couch with hot tea and a good book isn’t the same when it’s still light outside. I slow down, journal more, take notice of my surroundings more.
In late winter, the days get longer, but the skies stay gray. For me, these days are the real test. Without the comfort of darkness, but yet the giddiness of spring still weeks away, I don’t know what to do with myself. The ski trails have bare spots, yet the sidewalks are still icy, limiting outdoor activity. Gray makes people crazy – those gray areas of indecision or lack of clarity. The gray limbo of late winter is an annual lesson of patience, of living in that area of our minds where the results are not yet in.
And when I think I might just cave in and turn to alcohol and binge watching sitcoms on Netflix (I’m not going to lie, this does still happen sometimes), the clouds break up and suddenly I’m forced back into life.
I like to think this ecstatic time of year when the snowdrifts get smaller and the sidewalks get wider is our reward for enduring the past few weeks. Jackets get lighter, hats get left inside on the heat register. We forget the teeth chattering and the stiff transmissions as we plan our gardens, arrange our lawn chairs in our minds, and start thinking of burgers on the grill and sidewalk chalk.
We have the soulfulness of winter, the patience of the gray weeks, and the joy of spring.
And this is why I live here.