(listening time: 6:05 minutes)
Asha runs ahead of me on the trail following a scent. “Wait for me,” I call before she disappears around the bend.
Were it not for Asha, I wouldn’t be out here on this cold January morning with a wind chill temperature of 9° F. I’d be inside drinking tea and weaving. I’d be looking out on this winter landscape through the windows of my warm studio.
But here I am, bundled up, looking for birch seeds as I crunch through the snow.
I’ve become enamored with the tiny brown fleurs-de-lis I’ve seen strewn across the snow, especially after a strong wind. Having recently learned that these are actually hardened, modified leaves called bracts, I’m eager to find the even smaller seeds. And am filled with wonder that such minuscule seeds can grow into the tall birches that hold a special place in my heart.
I’m intrigued that these seeds that remind me of coarsely cracked pepper disperse in winter and know there must be wisdom in this.
What I’ve pieced together is that birches want their seeds to travel far. They are often among the first trees to grow in locations that have been disturbed or damaged by logging, landslides, fire or floods where they grow quickly in the sun. Landing on snow, rather than among leaves and other organic matter on the forest floor, may increase the winged seeds’ chances of being blown far and wide to take root in new places.
Birch seeds work with winter.
For years I’ve struggled with winter, especially December. Not because of the cold or the darkness, but rather the disconnect between the natural world and white dominant culture with its emphasis on speed, urgency and productivity at the expense of our bodies.
As a student, then a teacher, there were term papers and final exams to write or grade before the semester ended. As a weaver, I had craft shows almost every weekend in November and December as the retail season kicked into high gear before the holidays. And my inbox was flooded with advice about planning and setting goals for the coming year.
The cultural world kept saying “Hurry up, do more,” at a time when my body and the natural world were saying, “Slow down. Rest.” No wonder I was exhausted.
As Asha and I walk in the woods, I’m learning to work with winter.
For much of my life I’ve been a happy indoorswoman. While I was often drawn outside by the colors, warmth and goings-on of the other seasons, winter’s less obvious gifts didn’t pull me out into the cold.
An important shift happened twenty years ago when I was teaching preschool. As I watched the children play in the snow, I wondered, Why are they having such fun and I’m miserable? The next Monday, to their delight and mine, I came to school with snow pants.
When my beloved and I adopted Asha, I knew I’d be pulling on snow pants for our winter walks, although I didn’t know how these walks would change me.
Now I delight in the animal and bird tracks in the snow, the muted color palette and openness of the woods, the ever-changing ice on streams, ponds, puddles and mud.
As I pay closer attention to the seasonal changes, I notice and accept my own rhythms. How I drag in the summer, especially on humid days, and how my energy returns in the fall with cooler temperatures. How I turn inward in winter and then shift outward with the excitement of spring. I’m learning to trust the natural ebb and flow of my energy. To work with each season rather than push against it. After all, I’m part of nature, not separate from it.
Last winter I gave myself permission to heed the call of the natural world and stepped away from the rush and crush of a busy retail season. Instead of traveling to craft shows, I invited people into my studio as well as to shop online.
This winter, on the morning after we turned our clocks back an hour, I felt something in me settle. A kind of exhale. I’d realized several months earlier that it was time to press pause on marketing my weaving business, Whimsy & Tea, and had just finished tucking it in for the winter. Right in time to welcome the darkness and invitation to turn inward.
Now it was time to settle into the long nights and allow the seeds of what’s next to germinate.
* * *
About ten minutes into our walk, snow starts falling. Instead of finding birch seeds, I find that I don’t want to leave.