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A Long Winter's Rest

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Carol Bossard

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A few snow squalls, some bitter wind gusts, and there goes January! The mild weather throughout December and some of January has discouraged the long winter naps for our resident skunk and possum.  They’ve been out and about, thieving at bird feeders and the cat’s dish. The birds haven’t been quite as ravenous as when the snows come fast and deep, though the cold of last week sent them often to the suet.  The deer have been down from the hill, but not in multiples; I think only one or two.  The squirrels have been bouncing off feeders and trees like dizzy acrobats; it is mating season for them; apparently, showing off is part of the process. We have not seen even one turkey.  Usually, by this time, we have two or three groups of them, coming off the hill to browse around the feeders, but I haven’t seen a turkey since mid-summer. I’m not sure whether to blame coyotes or the turkeys’ wandering spirits. It could also be the lack of berries and nuts due to that late frost last spring.  Maybe they went south? Does that make them snowbirds? We miss them but out bird seed lasts longer.

Winter months are designated, by some people of wisdom, as a restoration time; an opportunity to replenish energies and clarify hopes and dreams. Of course, much of the world races on as usual; trying to forge ahead on in-the-hurry journeys, with no change in habits to accommodate winter.  I have found it less and less attractive to slog through snow drifts or even venture out on the roads when they have gunk on them, so I’m leaning more toward the restoration idea. It is rather pleasant to simply sit inside by the fire and look out at the liberally frosted branches and twigs after a large snowfall. If I have an appointment, I pick up the phone and say: “Sorry, but there’s snow!”  Naturally, when things are shoveled and plowed, we get out into the world again.  But that brief time of feeling snowed-in, is restoring in its own way.

I recently saw a post on FB that had kids of all ages, and then adults too, singing “Sing A Song” from the Muppets.  One viewer said, “Now I can’t get this out of my head!”  It’s not a bad thing to have stuck in one’s head.  Instead of moping over world news, instead of grasping for power and fame, instead of snarling at foolish behavior, we could be humming along with “Sing, sing a song --- sing out loud, sing it long --- sing of good things, not bad, sing of happy, not sad…...”  Our Friday AM group is looking at what is called, by many, the Beatitudes, a section that makes clear how our behavior depends on our attitudes.  Singing always improves mine!

I spoke recently with a dear friend who lives some distance away, and who is care-giver for her husband. They are a little older than we and a bit less mobile.  She said it was rather comforting to be less active in the world, and more attuned to the small things around her; the snow coming down, a good neighbor’s visit, contemplating life (from the perspective of someone who has “seen these things before”) as seen on TV, and knows that ill tidings will, eventually, pass.  She can pray for people and for serenity without being distracted by too much busy-ness.  There are seasons in our lives as well as seasons in the calendar year. This friend and her husband have what I consider super-stellar attitudes toward getting older in this life.

Right now, I find less time for participation in “multiple activities”, and maybe more time for puttering.   One definition of “puttering” is “the act of doing dozens of little chores that no one knows need to be done, that no one wants to do, and no one notices have been done.” * So, puttering brings no E -for Effort, or blue ribbons for achievement.  And yet, it is quite satisfying in its own way and occasionally, I spend a day doing just that.  If I clean out three drawers, I smile, knowing those drawers are now lined with pretty paper, and the contents are tidy and available.   The seeds that some house-mouse had stored there are gone and, temporarily, so is the confusion. I can putter among our books and know that once again, maybe for only a short time, they are on shelves according to author and/or subject matter.  While trying to downsize, as I’ve determined to do, puttering makes a dent in the baskets and boxes of papers. Items for recycling, the church yard sale, and the burning pit grow.  Puttering gives me time to think, to re-group and to shine up my attitudes for busier moments.

There is a world full of always-energetic people who look askance at puttering.  And for those of us who move to a different drummer, this tacit disapproval can be difficult.  Or, as Brene Brown** says, “It takes courage to say yes to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.”  When busyness became a gold standard, I’m not sure.   Too much of our population is metaphorically gasping for breath as they strive to keep up.   We need to rest, not just our bodies, but our minds.  One of the things I find restful, is noticing small things around me. If I spend a few minutes watching a tufted titmouse happily dining on suet, that makes me smile ---- and somehow, that smile and the titmouse made me relax.   Watching a sunrise or sunset takes very little time, but suddenly the wash of wonder over the colors, lifts fatigue away. Winning the approval of others by over-doing will lead to exhaustion of mind and body.  We should maintain ourselves at least as well as we maintain our cars, don’t you think? Instead of a lube job, we give ourselves a a rest-job and that includes awareness.

Blindness to our surroundings actually leads to more than just weariness. If we are unaware of the created world around us, we are also probably unaware of the people in our lives, and how they are feeling.  Someone who once worked in my office was a perfect example of this. That person mostly kept all the county mandates and fulfilled duties.  But people’s feelings were, daily, splattered right and left by thoughtless words and total disregard for what was going on in others’ lives. This lack of awareness and disregard for feelings is probably a major reason for damaged and broken relationships everywhere.

Rachel Carson*** was a biologist who was made famous (actually, infamous at first) by her book, Silent Spring.  She was quite explicit about the need to be aware, of the earth around us, of our own back yards, and of the people in our lives. She said: “One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before?  What if I knew I would never see it again?’”  Surely a few days/weeks of asking these questions, would increase our appreciation of the world in which we live and the people we love.  And we might just find ourselves feeling an energy and enthusiasm for life that, somewhere along the way, we had lost.

Meanwhile, we are in January, named for the god, Janus; a two-faced god who looks back at the year just past, and forward to the year we have entered. He was considered the Roman god of new beginnings, of gateways and open doors.; the embodiment of longing for the past and hope for the future.  Mostly, in this northern hemisphere, January is known for its winter weather, and (on a more celebratory side) remembrance of Martin Luther King, who did so much, in a completely non-violent way, to help our country realize its lack of justice for so many of our citizens.   We humans don’t much like changes to our comfort levels or our thinking. But each new year forces us to consider changes.  Thinking of these things; re-sorting in our minds how we should be living, is a gift for a new year, a Leap Year, which gives us one extra day to be delighted with life.

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The birds, squirrels, and deer that do not go into hibernation for the winter months face the winds, survive cold and messy conditions seemingly with the same vibrancy with which they enjoy the summer months of sunshine and warmth.  We could learn something from them --- about acceptance, about joy in adverse conditions, about being a part of a natural network of creatures inhabiting our planet.

I like what Frederick Buechner**** says about living well:  He said, “One life on this earth is all that we get {here}, whether it is enough or not enough.  And the obvious conclusion would seem to be that at the very least, we are fools if we do not live it as fully and bravely and beautifully as we can.”

Carol Bossard writes from her home in Spencer. 

 

*Terry Hershey --- Author, humorist, inspirational speaker, ordained pastor, dad, golf addict and lover of French wines.

**Brene Brown –Author and speaker who studies human interactions and vulnerability.

***Rachel Carson ---American author, marine biologist, whose book “Silent Spring” brought about cascades of criticism; truths that we now accept.  1907-1964.

****Frederick Buechner ---American author and theologian.  Ordained Presbyterian pastor.  1926-2022.

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