It looks like winter weather has finally arrived, albeit over a month late. Due to the storm, we decided on Friday night to cancel our attendance at our Saturday markets out of concern for our safety on the roads. The snow fell, as expected, and we did not regret our decision. Then, in true winter form, bitter cold followed up behind the snow. I didn’t need a thermometer to determine the temperature this morning. The crunch of the snow beneath my boots told me that the air temperature was in the single digits, Fahrenheit. The bite of the cold that blew through my pants and gloves while I fed the animals this morning, told me that today was a good day to finish some indoor tasks.
Winter can be brutal, but truthfully, we were lamenting the lack of truly cold weather. Without a spell of cold, there is a risk that pests and diseases would not properly be killed from the previous season. I especially worried about our high tunnels/greenhouses, that need a freezing period to ensure that greenhouse pests are killed. While there are pragmatic reasons for appreciating the winter, there are also romantic ones as well. For example, I will likely find some time this week to enjoy nature on my cross country skis. To me, gliding nearly effortlessly and quietly along a trail in the forest, is among one of my favorite winter activities. Skis allow me to be graceful, much more than I am otherwise, and it seems to me that wildlife often recognizes this grace without as much fear as when a hairless primate lumbers through the forest clumsily on foot. Perhaps, they are perplexed by the odd creature who floats upon the snow with abnormally large feet, an apparition of winter. In either case, I tend to experience more wildlife encounters than normal while skiing in the hidden trails of the winter forest.
Yet even outdoor recreational activities are not the only reason to appreciate winter. Winter completes the cycle of life in the northern 2/3 or so of the northern hemisphere. Without it, some species of seeds won’t even sprout, for example. The snow protects the dormant soil, and provides early moisture after the thaw before the rains of spring arrive. Winter is also the end that triggers the beginning. Beginnings bring hope, and hope drives farms in the spring. Weddings are the beginning of two lives agreeing to join together. Births, are the beginning of new life, the promise of another generation and the continuation of all that we hold dear. These are full of hope and we attach our dreams to these life events–these beginnings.
Yet, these beginnings are the result of endings. The newlyweds will leave their parents’ households, the parents who held them in their arms when they were born. Upon being born into the world with possibility and hope, they had to become alive from the death of non-existence, eventually leaving the safe womb of their mother’s body. Beginnings are hopeful, and all beginnings are born of endings. The winter closes the story of another cycle. The death of winter is only an illusion. From the ashes of the previous cycle, a new one is born, cradled in the womb of the earth. We are privileged to be part of it, even as we will ultimately participate in the cycle. The cells of my body are composed of materials that were once shared by many lives. One day, I will return that which I have only borrowed. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. The winter reminds me of this, even as the cold bites to my core. I am reminded that by grace, there go I, but I am part of something larger, the web of life.
Soon the sun will usher in the spring thaw, and there will be a new beginning, a beginning that all life prepares for, even farmers. I recognize that there are no true endings, but rather beginnings that rely on ending something that has run its course. Winter will yield to spring, and with it, the flowers of tomorrow will blossom and remind us that so much lies in front of us. They will bring hope, and with it another cycle of the great web of life.