This last, month of really wintery weather has always been a tough one for me to get through. While I lived on Long Island it was the coldest, the wettest, the iciest and slushiest of the winter months. Except for Valentine’s Day and my son’s birthday, there were little or no holidays to enjoy, and it always seemed to be the darkest, toughest part of winter to endure. The fact that it often started off with the somber warning from Punxsutawney Phil that there would be six more weeks of this disgusting weather did little to alleviate the cabin fever experienced by not just me, but everyone I knew.
However, my outlook on winter has changed since starting my life in Herkimer and working for the last four winters in Richfield Springs. Yes, winter is a different experience for me these days. And February no longer represents a bleak time of year, but one filled with wonder, and the excitement of the coming of spring.
How can this be? There is more snow on the ground than I saw throughout the last 10 years I lived on Long Island.
The answer is through the wisdom that has come to me with the celebration of Imbolc. Imbolc, and its customs and traditions, celebrated on February 2, has changed my life. Without getting into the spiritual aspect of things, basically Imbolc is a time of year that was celebrated by many cultures as a way to recognize that winter was not going to last forever. It gave our ancestors the opportunity to take the time to notice the little signs that Mother Earth was waking up, that spring was soon to come.
Four years ago I started celebrating Imbolc. And it never ceases to amaze me how the very next day I notice things I did not notice a week before. Things like how when I breathe deep the cold winter air, there is a difference to it, almost a warming in it. The wind usually is not as biting, it doesn’t hurt to breathe. I hear birds chirping. The sun seems to be out more, maybe not all day, but burning through the clouds. The snows melt here and there. The trees are even waking up, with the formation of the tiniest of bumps preparing to become buds.
It really seems as if the earth is waking up.
This hope gives me the strength to be optimistic and actually enjoy what is left of winter, when normally I would have just grumbled my way through these last few weeks. I remember the second year we lived here, when March finally rolled around I said to a co-worker of mine while working at Herkimer Elementary that I was glad the snow was melted and spring was almost here. She laughed and said, “Honey, it may not be over. We’ve gotten snow as late as April and May.”
I thought she was joking, but sure enough, April 28 we had a snow/ice day called because of weather.
Living up here in the mountains and valleys of Upstate New York has taught me to appreciate the earth more. It has given me the gift of the Four Seasons, something many people around the world do not get to experience the way we do.
There’s something to be said for the deep, blanketing snows that protect the earth as flora and fauna and even we humans regenerate and heal. The melting snows fill the rivers and lakes, nurturing the newly budding trees and gardens and lawns until everywhere we look life is bursting vibrant and green and lush. Hot summer days warm our bodies and the cool summer nights provide respite. And just when we think we’ve had enough of the heat... autumn surrounds us with brilliant hues of orange, red and yellow, painting our hillsides like a Thomas Kincaide scene. And then the snows begin to fall, softly at first, a whisper of a dusting here and there. Then winter is upon us once more, full circle; a complete turn of the wheel of the year.
Another time when I was working at the elementary school I remarked to my co-workers about my ride in to work. The fog was lifting over the valley, and that, combined with the early morning sun shining over the autumn hills, was so breathtakingly beautiful I had to pull over. It made me weep. I had just recovered from cancer and my appreciation of life had hit an all time high. I realized how blessed I was to have moved up here, not just for the fact I had improved my family’s quality of life, but because I was surrounded by our Creator’s beauty everywhere I looked. I was blessed to have more time on this earth.
The women I worked with all looked at me very quizzically and one asked what road I had taken. I told her Route 5 and they all shook their heads and said they never even thought about the scenery like that. They had never noticed fog lifting off the river the way I had described it.
A few days later one of them came to me and thanked me for opening her eyes. We agreed that too often people take life for granted.
So, even though the groundhog has promised six more weeks of winter, I am not sullen and morose. Instead, I am noticing tiny bumps on the limbs of my maple tree that will soon be buds, then freshly born leaves. I am hearing the birds chirping that I did not hear a week ago. I am appreciating the beauty of the snow covered hills and farmlands, their smooth landscapes cut into patterns by snowmobiles and wildlife tracks.
Most importantly, I will use this time to appreciate the last moments of quiet time the winter offers. My life has been insanely crazy with the changes here at the paper, so the down time I have at home is even more precious to me. Soon spring cleaning will be in full force, then gardening and farming and graduations and summer parties and vacation and finally preparations for the start of school will have all of us running here and there.
While there is still time, while the year is still new and the winter grows old, take a look around. Appreciate the snow as it lays along your porch rail. Study the wildlife tracks in the snow. Notice how ice on a tree limb glitters crystal like in the early morning sun. Cuddle up on the couch with your loved ones, with a fire crackling at your hearth. Celebrate Valentine’s Day by loving life.
After all, even in the winter, life is for living... so live it.