Growing up in Minnesota, I should be used to winter…But I just never got there. I never learned to love it. In fact, I found every way I could to avoid the outdoors for those never-ending frigid months. I shunned the cold in spite of the advice I’d heard countless times:
“The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get into them.”
The Minnesota “lifers” I know do just that: they sled, skate, pack the snow into an assorment of shapes. They get into it. And through this immersion, they are changed. They and snow have bonded. I suspect they are consoled by the realization that the fear of the cold is worse than the cold itself…I suspect. As for me, I just moved to Atlanta. Problem solved.
Until now, when I have somehow landed myself back in the Midwest. And while Southern Missouri’s winters hardly compare in harshness to Minnesota’s, this season is compounded by the utter isolation of my surroundings.
Apart from my husband and son, these 4,000 acres are entirely devoid of humans.
Did I mention that I’m an extrovert?
And so I have been forced to finally get into it. Into the cold, uninhabited landscape of these woods, of my self. My own snowy, untraversed terrain. The dormant, fallow land I’ve stayed clear of all these years.
What follows are a sampling of my reflections as I’ve treaded into Winter and as I’ve grappled with my new existence as a homesteader. Very little is resolved. But so far, the fear has been worse than the cold itself.
Since being here, I have ping ponged between profound satisfaction and malaise.
We had such a lovely weekend. I felt at peace. Wildly content, in fact. My senses enlivened by my new forested surroundings. But this morning I awoke with the familiar angst that has lurked behind each of these joyous moments, waiting to subsume them. A sort of panic gurgles up inside, followed by a stream of interrogatories: “What have I done? What am I doing? Is this ALL there is? This is my life now? WHERE ARE ALL THE PEOPLE?” And I am shaken.
The quiet can be so disquieting.
Slowly, however, I am learning to listen to this angst. That it is actually trying to teach me something about myself.
It’s a vulnerable thing to be content. It means you have something to lose. You risk becoming discontent and the subsequent pain of knowing the difference. It’s far more comfortable to stay in the shallow pool of dissatisfaction than to wade into the deep waters of joy and fulfillment.
I can already tell that this place is getting into my bones. I will miss is dearly if we ever leave.
There was a lot of “filler” activity in the city, superfluous functions and obligatory gatherings I attended primarily because I didn’t have a good reason not to. If you let it, one could occupy a whole life with said activities and never actually accomplish anything real. It is impossible to get away with this degree of empty distraction in the country. The “simple life” demands a level of intentionality in every action that is both unnerving and refreshing and, one would imagine, more akin to life’s original design.
I am submitting myself to this life. To all that it means to inhabit this space. All of its terrifying goodness.
I am being driven downward and inward. The descent is painful, but necessary. The most uncomfortable part? Hearing the whispers of love and worth as I exist apart from any kind of impressive production. There can be no “production” when no one is watching. And I have no definition of success apart from the reaction of onlookers. Here, there are no onlookers. No lookers at all.
I have never been on a silent retreat before, but I imagine it feels somewhat similar to this. My life is currently an extended silent retreat. Yes, there are interludes of noise and activity, brief bursts of energy that temporarily ameliorate the tension of silence. But when they subside, they leave me right where they found me. Unseen, in the absence of sound.
Even now, as I look out the window, the snow has started to melt. White has turned to brown and I know this means that green and glorious pops of colors will soon make their way to the earth’s surface. Spring is near, but this year I am more acutely aware of winter’s role in all of this birth. The death that leads to new life. And so I don’t want to rush past it, to circumvent the good hard work of dying the Earth has done or that I am doing. Because the truth is that I need this. I’ve needed this time of quiet bleakness to see into myself and not turn away. I would not have done it under other conditions. I’m far too distractable.
I am becoming grateful for the gift of Winter.
“Winter clears the landscape, however brutally, giving us a chance to see oursleves and each other more clearly, to see the very ground of our being.” ~Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak.