The Darkest Days of Winter
While I was driving on a familiar road through the forest late in the afternoon, Maggie asked,
“Are we in the middle of nowhere?”
It certainly felt like nowhere. It was pitch black and 3:30 in the afternoon. November in Stockholm gets this way. It’s dark, really dark. Buildings, recognizable by day, vanish by late afternoon. They are no longer buildings, but blocks of light—square windows floating above the horizon like tiny beacons in the premature night sky. They are light-marks, not landmarks, to find your way home.
November can be tough to adjust to. Trees have shed their autumnal colors and the sky, an impenetrable gray, is made starker by the water’s reflection below. It might be part illusion, but it feels as though the gray is everywhere, surrounding you, as if it’s seeping into your very bones.
Winter is nature’s response to summer’s growth and fall’s harvest. Without winter, there could be no spring. Plants know this…it’s called dormancy. Conservation. The plant’s metabolic activity slows; they stop trying to do so much.
Dormancy is a good thing. Without it, peaches, for example, wouldn’t grow. Peaches need 700 to 1,000 “chilling” hours below 45°F, before flowering into fragrant buds and producing succulent fruits. Almonds need 500-600 hours. Persimmons 200-400 hours. (How many hours of “chill” time do people need?)
Self-preservation is an evolutionary skill. Plants have developed their traits over millions of millennia. They’re attuned to seasonal cues and know exactly how much is required at any given time. Winter in nature means a change of pace. Rest. Dormancy.
Something I’m trying to learn about my life here in Sweden.
By necessity, my life rhythms are different in Sweden than when I was living in California. Living by season demands more consciousness, more preparation…more patience. You can’t just waltz out the door to run errands. You need a thick down parka, gloves, hat, scarf, proper boots and Chap Stick (a must have). And you can’t stay out for too long. It’s cold. You have to go home.
Home isn’t just a destination; it is a sanctuary. It is where you escape the biting temperatures and out flank the elements. It’s where there is warmth and light and friends. Home is the focus of winter in Stockholm, a great place to “chill.”
After a frenetic summer and busy fall I’m discovering the joys of dormancy. Yes there is work enough and school enough and someone has to buy milk and eggs, but winter is a time for preserving strength, slowing down, nurturing self. It’s easy to do more. It’s harder, these days, to do less. Or to do something slower than it could otherwise be done…handwriting a letter, baking bread, sitting down to an afternoon cup of tea, playing a game that’s not electronic. Lately I’ve been organizing the family photos (of the last several years) on Shutterfly. I’ve been saving this project for the proverbial rainy day, but a freezing cold gray day in Stockholm works just fine. It’s not the weather, so much as the season. Winter is a gift, dormancy a state of mind. Sometimes nowhere is the best place to be.