A lot of people feel depressed during the winter. It’s colder. It’s darker. Other than the holiday gatherings, it can be a bit dreary. I used to feel that way myself. It was like I was refusing to see the special beauty this season brings.
Riding over to a nearby town during winter, I’m struck by the dull palette of grays and browns, but especially by the nakedness…trees bare of leaves. It’s like living in a house with no curtains, letting the whole world look in, seeing things normally hidden away, including the imperfections that summer’s greenery hides. Some of what I see is frankly not pretty, bare bones and bleak, even dirty, but other things come as a surprise. “I didn’t know that was there!” or “I’d never seen that before.” It can be eye opening, pleasant, if sometimes uncomfortable. Someone, though, also reminded me once that those bare trees make a lovely pattern against a winter sky or sunset, like old lace, and so I began to look at winter differently.
Yet, even as the calendar still says autumn while the days are seeming to feel like winter with the occasional flurry of snow, morning frost on the car, a cold wind blowing, I’m reminded that every season is beautiful in its own way and has the ability to surprise me. One of these gifts comes in the form of my “Thanksgiving cactus.” I think it was supposed to be a Christmas cactus, maybe even an Easter one, but in its own determined way, it has for the last couple of years decided its time to amaze me is in late fall/early winter. I follow its gestation daily from the first sighting of tiny barely-there buds to its full-term burst of bright color that really delights me. It’s my daily symbol of faith, hope, tenacity, Nature, and simple loveliness, and it reminds me that ordinary life is quite extraordinary if we’ll just look and appreciate it. This bright flower perfectly represents the faith I have as a pantheist…not in some godly figure in the sky saving me from eternal torment, or ancient holy books, but in the seasons and rhythms of nature itself. Those seasons will come and go, trees will flower and fade and flower again, and eventually I’ll die, too, but will still and always be part of Nature in a different form. I trust Nature to continue its cycles of birth, growth, and death in so many beautiful, and to be fair, sometimes not so beautiful, ways.
I’m grateful for winter. It gives us time to rest, plan and remember, snuggle and nest, celebrate with family, enjoy its birds and plants with bright red berries, appreciate the darkest of skies full of a million stars, and experience the welcome and extraordinary quietness of snow days. It prepares us for the next season of spring and all that it brings in its pastel and noisy baby-animal, bud-popping fashion.
Sparkling raindrops drip
From icy pear tree branches,
Jewels on nature’s arms.
There’s something special and dear about seeing the passing landscape in all its glory, ugly, beautiful, familiar, surprising, but most importantly, authentic. Just like with us humans…we know someone best and feel deepest, I think, when we see beyond the outer person, all made up and dressed in their finery, on their best behavior, when we’re allowed in to see the real depths of who they are. Perhaps it’s my own nakedness as well, not necessarily physically, but emotionally, psychologically, my vulnerability (including questioning the quality, value, and contributions throughout the seasons of my own life) that winter’s stripped-down beauty also reminds me of. As I’ve gotten older and hopefully wiser, I’ve become more comfortable and happy with both of us.
“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” (Henry David Thoreau)
(Originally published in Pantheist Vision)