Katherine May reads an excerpt from ‘Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times’
Listen to Krista’s full conversation with Katherine May in the On Being episode “How ‘Wintering’ Replenishes.”
Katherine May: “A surprising cluster of novels and fairytales are set in the snow. Our knowledge of winter is a fragment of childhood, almost innate. All the careful preparations that animals make to endure the cold, foodless months; hibernation and migration, deciduous trees dropping leaves. This is no accident. The changes that take place in winter are a kind of alchemy, an enchantment performed by ordinary creatures to survive. Dormice laying on fat to hibernate, swallows navigating to South Africa, trees blazing out the final weeks of autumn. It is all very well to survive the abundant months of spring and summer, but in winter, we witness the full glory of nature’s flourishing in lean times.
Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Wintering is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.
Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season in which the world takes on a sparse beauty and even the pavements sparkle. It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order. Doing these deeply unfashionable things — slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting — is a radical act now, but it’s essential. This is a crossroads we all know, a moment when you need to shed a skin. If you do, you’ll expose all those painful nerve endings and feel so raw that you’ll need to take care of yourself for a while. If you don’t, then that skin will harden around you.
It’s one of the most important choices you’ll ever make.”
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