Winter is a character in the lives of folk who live in the world of four full seasons, far enough from the equator that embraces the middle of our planet to provide times of full light and deep darkness. It burrows into our unconscious, erupts in our mythologies, conditions our moods and aspirations.
Its bleak beauty can be terrifying, but also embraced as a necessity. Every natural creature in these latitudes – from the smallest wildflowers to the greatest trees – evolved not only to survive winter, but to require it.
As the part of earth that holds Pine Street on its surface makes its way to the apex of the dark season, the winter solstice, all its creatures shift into winter mode. Plants shed their tender parts and shrink into the soil, grateful for the increasingly rare blankets of snow that buffer them from the coldest temperatures. Trees turn their energies inward, creating the buds that will emerge when increasing light tempts them. Small mammals find their burrows and caves, large mammals turn their backs to the prevailing winds. Insects provision the next generation, hiding larvae in nooks and hollow stems.
The humans, often without realizing it, echo this natural rhythm. Yes, they continue their work schedules with little change; yes, they are able to buy the fruits of summer at their groceries, fresh and ripe, shipped from vast distances at astonishingly low prices, given their journeys. No one need fear that their stores of grain or root vegetables will not last the winter, that spring will find them starved.
And yet, their bodies tell them otherwise. They want to sleep more, eat more, rest more. Their attentions turn inward, like the trees. They shed their tender parts, like the plants. They burrow under blankets, like the small mammals. The ancient anxiety – “have we harvested and saved enough to get us through?” – appears in new forms.
Our Pine Street friends have been through several winters together now, and they know each one will bring unique challenges. This winter offers a lingering pandemic, more political unrest, and individual dramas.
They have also learned one terribly important lesson of winter: inside, around, and underneath the pulling inward, the call to listen with the inner ear and heart, there is the solid safety of the bonds of friendship.
Making it through the upcoming winter is more than the convenience of grocery stores and snow blowers. It is, at its core, the greatest gift of community.