I Was Going to Write…

I was going to write about the woes of March. I was going to call her a lyin’, cheatin’, bad friend full of broken promises. I was gathering sad pictures to prove my point.

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Our sad woodpile with only one row left.
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Our very sad, muddy road full of potholes.

But then something shifted. I had written earlier that our love or hate for winter was a question of attitude. If that was true, and transferable to other seasons, my loathing of March and April might be in need of a serious attitude adjustment.

My body tenses just thinking about March and April. My mind is wanting to embrace the beautiful idea of spring but my body memory tells me of cold, northerly winds, fast  moving weather systems  that dump 30+ centimetres of wet snow overnight, and interminably grey skies. We don’t have spring in southern Quebec, we have winter’s slow and painful exit.

Buddhists would say I have set myself up for stress and suffering – one part of me desiring an early spring  and the other part resisting what is present.  And they would be right. Since I’m on the path to ending suffering, there seems to be work to do here.

The first order of business is changing my thinking about spring’s arrival. If I no longer believe that spring arrives here on March 21st,  I can’t be disappointed when she doesn’t show up. So, I’m officially moving the start of spring to April 21st. This is much more realistic and a very good first start in my attitude adjustment.

Now that I’m not expecting spring until the end of April, I can move into acceptance.  I anticipate there’ll  be some exquisite days when the sap runs in the trees and our bodies will feel a joy that only people who have wintered here can really know.

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On those days, I’ll be outside breathing it all in.

It’s the other days that might be more of a challenge.  Facing challenges reminds me of a story that Fred Rogers, the creator of the children’s program Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, used to tell. He said that when he was a boy and would see scary things, his mother would say to him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” I’m wondering if a similar strategy could work in facing the challenge of a winter that never seems to end. We could seek out the helpers:

  1. Visit a local maple syrup producer and breathe in the sweet aroma of boiling sap. Have a sip of fresh maple syrup or eat some sugar on snow while we’re there.
  2. Listen and watch for the returning birds.
  3. Invite friends for dinner or meet them at a local pub or eatery.
  4. Add lighter foods to our diet – more vegetables, less carbs.
  5. Buy some tulips to add a little colour and to remember that spring has arrived in other places.
  6. Look for the beauty in the changing light, the sun’s last rays, the moon rising…

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The Snow Sings

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A winter painting by artist Antoine Bittar that sits above our fireplace.

I wrote a blog post awhile back asking if you were a winter lover or hater. You can read it here if you missed it. I concluded that it was a question of attitude: how willing we are to embrace winter. I realize I am a winter lover, especially when we have an old fashioned winter with plenty of snow.

DECEMBER

I love the deep dark of December. The lights are brighter and the music sweeter because of the dark.

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JANUARY

January is traditionally our coldest month and finds me in full hygge mode. There is always a fire in the fireplace, I have the books I haven’t had time to read  stacked on the coffee table by the couch, a knitting project or two in the basket, and a list of Netflix shows friends have recommended to check out. I am so ready for all of this!

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FEBRUARY

There’s not much that I don’t love about February. I love the peachy light that floods the fields and woods this time of year.

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I love that the sun rises just that much earlier and sets an hour later than it did at solstice. And I love the snow. After my month of hygge in January,  it’s time to get outside and move. The snowshoes and x-country skis are left in the entrance way or by the front door and it doesn’t feel quite right if they aren’t used once a day.

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I especially love ending February outdoor days  having a drink in town in one of the bistros that the after ski crowd frequent. It’s contagious, this enjoying winter thing.

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Mary Oliver, the poet, writes: “The song you heard singing in the leaf when you were a child is singing still.” I’m thinking that the song we heard singing in the snow when we were children is singing still too.  We just have to be outside to hear it.

Life Calls

I haven’t been getting up early to write since my mother became sick and passed away. It didn’t feel right to be back to “normal” when nothing at all felt very normal.  I took care of things that had to be taken care of and I started cooking again, but there was a real reluctance to take up life as before.

That’s why looking out at the post dawn view from my writing place this morning is all the more special.  I’m being called back it seems. It happened slowly. I went for a first walk, looked up at the trees, and remembered being part of something far greater than myself. I knew I had to be outside again. And that’s how skiing has become the great healer for me.

It has helped that it has snowed almost non stop for the last week or so and conditions are just perfect on the network of trails that zig zag through the woods behind our house and beyond.

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A neighbour who owns a massive tract of land has been busy clearing trails and building bridges for the last year or so. The network of trails is so extensive that I feel giddy with excitement at the prospect of exploring a new section each day. The trails are all marked with different colours of  surveyors tape.

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This is the pink trail that runs closest to the back of our house.

It becomes really interesting at the places where the trails meet.

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I don’t know much for certain these days, but I do know that movement and being in nature is the great healer for me. So every day I’ve been clicking my boots into the bindings and heading outside. It feels right.

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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

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As the days become impossibly short and the cold draws us indoors, I think about times gone by when life was lived at a slower pace.

I thought I’d share this poem written by Robert Frost in 1922 that captures a reflective moment by a man and his horse on the “darkest evening of the year”.

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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.    

My little horse must think queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

Happy darkest evening of the year everyone!

If you listen carefully, you just might be able to hear those harness bells.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Twas in the Moon of Winter-time…Music and Landscape

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I’ve been thinking about music and landscape during this dark time before Solstice.  Part of what has inspired me, these words from the Huron Christmas Carol:

‘Twas in the moon of winter-time when all the birds had fled,

That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead.

Before their light the stars grew dim and wandering hunters heard the hymn…

Somehow the dark and barren pre-solstice landscape  seems to call for voices raised in chorus. A woman in my December Reflections photo group seemed to feel the same way and began adding music scores to the pictures I was posting. It felt just so…perfect to me and I thought I would share one of these with you to enjoy as well.

Here is the photo:

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And here is the music that she chose to go along with it.

 

It’s the seasonal message of light and hope relayed through music and landscape.

I remembered some of my old  favourite music after listening to this and dug out To Drive the Cold Winter Away by Canadian Loreena Mckennitt.

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And this album from King’s Choir Cambridge.

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Just feels right somehow to raise our voices in song at this time of year… or at least to enjoy others who do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Sets In…Be Brave My Friends

The first dusting of snow of the season feels like a warning: time to move out of fall mode, time to change wardrobes, time to put the snow tires on the car, time to get serious. It marks a shift and usually catches everyone by surprise even though we’ve been trying to outrun it all autumn.

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First dusting of snow. November 10, 2017.

The first major snowfall marks a whole new chapter. It’s the part in the winter story that marks the rising action. It’s here we start to get inklings of some of the struggles that the characters might be about to face.
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As an example, I thought I would share a short segment of me getting ready to go to town after our first significant snowfall. It felt like preparing for a polar expedition and went something like this:

  1. Shrugged on my longer length down parka and then realized I had forgotten to fill the wood stove. Threw some logs in the fire.
  2. Rummaged through the baskets in the entrance to find wooly hat and heavy duty mittens. Put on warm winter boots.
  3. Realized I was wearing boots and would be needing shoes once I got to the office. Back upstairs to collect shoes.
  4. Walked gingerly across the now icy and snow covered paving stones to my parked car covered in six inches of fluffy, down-like snow.
  5. Remembered to brush some of the snow away before opening the car door to retrieve the scraper on the back seat.
  6. Open purse brushes against back door as I’m doing this and fills with snow. Try blowing and shaking it out. Give up and and throw it in the front seat to deal with later.
  7. Start the car to defrost the windows while I continue to brush down the car.
    Fluffy snow from the roof of the car finds the groove at the back of my neck between where my hat ends and my coat collar begins. Remember this feeling from last year.
  8. Leave the remaining snow to blow off as I drive away.
  9. Arrive at the office and see that the snow in my purse has melted into my shoes sitting on the top.  Think about wearing them wet like this anyway but decide instead to put them on the heater.
  10. Smell burning. The leather tab at the back of my shoe has turned the colour brown we aim for when roasting marshmallows. The rest of the shoe is oddly soft and wrinkly.

Welcome to winter everyone. Be brave. Be strong. We can do hard things.

Time to Pick the Greenery

Decorating for the holiday season always begins outdoors for us. The timing depends on the weather forecast and involves putting up the outdoor lights and gathering the boughs for the wreath. (The indoor boughs don’t come in until closer to Christmas to avoid a crinkly mess of dried greenery and loose needles.)

The gifts of the natural world are what I want to surround myself with during the holiday season. My go to favourites are poinsettias and green boughs from the woods. Add a few fairy lights and the house is almost decorated. We are fortunate here to have a nice selection of evergreens to use for decorating.

I use a metal frame for the wreath on the door. The inner channel is filled with hemlock boughs. Hemlock is the softest, most flexible green that grows in our woods. This  year the hemlock is full of small  cones which makes it especially pretty.

 

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The hemlock comes decorated with its own cones this year.

Once the inner channel of the metal frame is wired in with hemlock, I usually begin adding an assortment of other greenery.

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I thought I would show you some of my choices to add to the hemlock to make a fuller wreath.

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Classic spruce with its Christmas smell.

OR

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Feathery white pine.

OR

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Cedar, one of my personal favourites. Fragrant and long lasting.

I have lots of good options as you can see. But there is something I am just loving about the simplicity of the hemlock all by itself this year.

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A simple hemlock wreath adorned with its own cones. Pure simplicity.

 

 

It’s a Black and White World

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Winter has set in early this year. The landscape has already taken on the white, black and grey hues that speak of the dark days and even darker nights that lead up to solstice.   It’s a bit unusual to feel in full winter mode so early. The last few years we have had an extended fall with snow only arriving in December, and even then often departing for Christmas, leaving everyone feeling a little forlorn.

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The light change is dramatic with the early arrival of winter. The snow casts a bluish white light on grey days which seeps into the windows and slinks across the floors. We have lots of grey days here in the mountains during the winter months, punctuated occasionally by clear days with blue, blue skies. The blue skies usually mean a weather system has come through and the temperature has dropped dramatically. Grey and warm, sunny and cold – winter in southern Quebec.

Outdoor life takes on a whole new rhythm. Boots are kept by the door for quick trips to the woodpile or compost bins and a whole layering of clothes takes place if we are going to be spending any longer outdoors. I usually rely on about three under layers followed by a lightweight down parka or jacket for most winter outings. I have tightly knit hats with a fleece lining for the coldest days and lighter weight knits for those in-between. It takes armies of footwear and baskets full of outerwear to get through a Canadian winter.

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Long walks on our unpaved road can become a bit treacherous in the winter months. The road is narrow and can be quite icy. Crampons added to the bottom of my shoes give me that added bit of traction which makes slips and falls a little less likely, but I actually much prefer walking in the woods with snowshoes to being on the road. The woods are more sheltered from the winds and there are animal tracks to follow and birds to watch.

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There’s life all around us – even in the winter. We just have to be little quieter and a little more persistent in order to see it.

Winter Lover or Hater?

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If the hard frost these mornings is any indication, winter should be showing up any day now. (This line and picture were from yesterday.)

This is the scene this morning.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about winter lately because as it approaches many of my friends and acquaintances are busy making plans to escape her reach. Winters here are long and cold, so this strategy is not all that surprising for people who have the time and the means to make different choices. But the pervasive attitude, for many,  is that winter is something to be endured – not embraced.

I began wondering about what the winter haters are believing about winter that is different from winter lovers. The winter haters seem to believe that winter is too long, too cold, too dark, and too limiting. It requires energy to get through a Canadian winter, so it becomes something to be endured or escaped. Winter lovers, on the other hand, are believing that winter is something to be welcomed and enjoyed. Although it feels long to some, the snow is usually here only from December to mid March. One group finds the cold and snow invigorating, the other something to hide from. It’s all a question of attitude, it seems.

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I happen to be lucky enough to live near a ski town, so I see first hand all the people who have embraced winter and are actually enjoying it. I meet them walking around town in their lightweight, brightly coloured parkas and they all look great. Their faces are flushed and beaming from the cold. They look happy and invigorated as they shop for food to be enjoyed with family and friends later in the day – by the fire, I’m imagining.

I couldn’t help but think mindset has a big influence on whether we are a winter lover or hater, so I was particularly interested in this article I read in The Atlantic titled, “The Norwegian Town Where the Sun Doesn’t Rise,” by Kari Leibowitz. She was there to research how the residents of northern Norway protect themselves from wintertime woes in the hopes that some of these findings could be used to help people who were suffering elsewhere with this issue.

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Tromsø, Norway is a tiny island 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. There the Polar Night lasts from November to January and during this time the sun doesn’t rise at all.  Interestingly enough, the residents of Tromsø have lower rates of wintertime depression than would be expected.

How do the residents of Tromsø protect themselves from wintertime depression? Some gave credit to cod liver oil or lamps that simulated the sun by brightening at a specific time each morning. Others thought it had to do with community and social involvement. Most residents though just talked about the Polar Night as if it wasn’t a big deal. In fact, many didn’t consider the summer months as being the best season.

So mindset, eh? I’m crediting the people of Tromsø for supporting me in not particularly enjoying the month of July here in southern Canada. As for winter, I’m sorting through my winter clothes, dusting off my snowshoes and cross-country skis, stocking up on candles, and, oh yes, will also be buying that cod liver oil.

Do any of you have winter plans?

 

*You can read the complete article on Tromsø  from The Atlantic here.

*Clinical seasonal depression is not like the wintertime blues and is something that needs to be taken seriously and treated appropriately.

 

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

It happens every year and every year it is shocking. It is shocking how much faster the dark descends each day. To give you an idea of how fast this happens, I went to a site that records sunrise and sunset and the total number of daylight hours for our area. This past Monday the 23rd of October we had 10:29 daylight hours. On Sunday, October 29th, we will have 10:10 hours of daylight. That’s a whopping 19 minute drop in one week. It feels as if the dark is descending quickly, because it is!

How does one live in sync with this seasonal rhythm of darkening days? One of the first things I have noticed is that we tend to eat dinner earlier, not because we are hungry,  but because it is so dark that all our body systems tell us to adjust: eat a bit earlier, go to bed earlier, rise later. There’s a slowing down.

It’s impossible to ignore the descent into the dark, but the upside is that it makes the light we do have all the more special.

IMG_0546Cow grazing at sunset.

In a season that is becoming darker by the day, I find myself looking for all the surprise moments of light.

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And just maybe, that’s what we need to be doing all of the time – looking for surprise moments of light in the dark.

 

*If you are interested in checking out the daylight hours in your part of the world you can go here.