For the most part I am happy that, once again, we flew back to Michigan for the 5-week celebration of family traditions, new and old, centered around our holy season of advent and our earth’s celebration of the Winter Solstice. In my study of personality and human development I learned that old age is a season of reflection, and my short interaction with winter this year has been a time for reflection of the joys and tribulations of growing up and old with cold and snowy winters.
I have been surprised by the shortness of the day here, just south of the 45th parallel. The sun seems to have taken a liking to an 8 to 5 work schedule, even having a hard time rising very far above the southern horizon, even at midday. The personality of the Michigan sun is noticeably different than the Florida sun at this time of the year. Our southern sun is working an hour and a half longer each day and gives off a lot more heat. I find great beauty in the gentleness of the northern light at the Winter Solstice and love the flickers created by the low sun shining through the barren trees as we drive down country roads.
We are experiencing the blast of arctic air that was predicted – the wind chill today is in single digits Fahrenheit. Yesterday we had a good amount of lake effect snow as the cold air blowing from the west picks up moisture from the warmer waters of Lake Michigan. I find this cold exhausting. Aging and fibromyalgia both decrease my available energy and I find it frustrating that I use so much energy putting on and carrying the extra layers of clothing necessary for survival in this cold. I am sitting in my favorite chair in my reading room next to the big windows, looking out at my garden covered in snow with the snow diamonds sparkling bright. I can feel the fierce cold seeping through the double panes that makes my right arm colder than my left, and reminding me that I will need my long underwear when I go out later this afternoon.
I still find the snow exciting but am surprised that the excitement takes on a different flavor. I remember how excited I would get as a child, feeling a rush of energy to go out to explore the new kind of fun of playing in the snow. I remember the joy of being a famous North Pole explorer, eagerly trudging through the deepest drifts, sinking into snow so deep I would loose my balance and fall over. I remember the joy of lying on my back, looking up as big flakes landed on my face and eye lashes, and listening hard to the muted silence, feeling a sense of safety and peace. I long to find that today, but know my aging body lying in a field of snow won’t lead to those outcomes. I can’t go back to those experiences – and that is okay because the memories are vivid.
I also vividly remember the explosion of energy on the day of the first snow, when I was of age, responsible for small children and bringing holiday joy and excitement to our family life. Big flakes floating on the gentle winter currents made me giggle from deep within and led to the house getting decorated in Christmas greens and jewels and presents wrapped in Santa paper to be hidden away, or in ivy berry paper with red bows for under the tree. The early December snows made our kitchen fill with the smell of cookies baking and comfort food casseroles. One of my favorite memories is of shoveling the drive on a perfectly still and quiet Christmas Eve, with huge flakes falling from the coal black sky. I also smile when I remember snowy days when I bundled excited kids for outside play – and then helped them unbundle from wet mittens, snowsuits and socks. I had the energy to do all this, jump-started by the spark of an early-winter snowfall. This year I was surprised that the excitement of the first snow, the giggle deep within me, didn’t spark the energy to prepare. I can’t go back there, either, although the memories bring a smile and I can almost smell the cookies baking.
So what is the joy and excitement of the first snowfall and the Winter Solstice when I am in my early 70’s. I still experience the wonder of the snowflake, of the sparkle of the diamond-lit blanket of snow in sun, the blue and navy shadows, how a cap of snow transforms all that is in the garden and woods. I still smile at the little sparks of cold as flakes land on my face, and the joy of walking up a snowy, icy walk in anticipation of the warmth, hugs and love that is waiting on the other side of the wreath-decorated door. I love curling up for an afternoon’s hibernation covered with my softest blanket, home-made soup simmering on the stove, and biscuits in the oven.
The Winter Solstice brings thoughts of our distant ancestors who lived in northern areas, who had no option but to adapt to nature’s cycles. They worked and played within the rhythm of light and dark, warmth and cold. I am feeling that pull as I look out at my garden in deep sleep under a blanket of snow. It must be in my DNA. I find I am resenting the busy social calendar of the season, the pressure of preparation for our celebration of Christ’s birth. At this season of my life I am enjoying a slower pace, and time to remember the joys and tribulations of my previous life’s seasons, and reflections on how to bring love and joy to others. Modern inventions made it possible for me to resist nature’s tug on my daily living for oh so many years – but I think I am ready to start surrendering without guilt. At this season of my life I am ready to slow down, enjoy my second cup of coffee in my Santa mug, and knit another hat.