Seeing Winter Anew; Embracing Stillness

Out of the bosom of the Air
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.


– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


To those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we move towards December’s coming of winter.  We equate winter with harshness, cold and stillness. Indeed, it’s the time when the blossoms, trees and world have gone into hibernation, rest and retreat.   But to many cultures, winter represents potentials building within a cyclical womb.

In the last ever panel of one of my favourite cartoons (Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson), the two main characters embark across a snowy scene with their sled, marveling about the gleaming snow.  “It’s like having a big sheet of paper to draw on,” muses Hobbes, to which Calvin replies, as they head off into the sea of white, “A day full of possibilities, it’s a magical world, Hobbes ol’ buddy…. let’s go exploring!”

Life is full of beginnings and endings, and though we fear endings, an end represents a beginning.  When I painted this scene of a tree standing in a winter landscape, I had the idea to leave half of the image blank and white, “it’s like having a big sheet of paper to draw on,” an untapped potential… something ripe and ready for creation in the right time.

Even the winter solstice which marks the beginning of winter holds this promise of growing potential; it is the shortest day of the year with the longest night, but after the days get longer and longer.

When something in our lives has come into a period of “winter” we have a choice about the story we tell ourselves… will it be an endless winter of lashing and driving snow, or will it be a snow-field ripe for snow men?  Will we see a time of rest as regeneration and potential coming to fruition, or as a barren end?

Stillness doesn’t just happen in a literal “winter” — it comes in cycles in all the things we want to achieve, in our relationships, in our projects and goals. Projects go on hold, loved ones seem distant, things seem to be “pending”. There are times when winter snow descends to clarify our possibilities, to give a crisp, clean air to breathe, to halt our active growth for a time so that new things can come into being.

The next time you encounter a winter… think of that excitement of seeing a blank page… a day full of possibilities that lies ahead.  Underneath all those seemingly dead trees, life is pulsing and vibrating underneath the ground. Seeds are getting ready to grow.

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