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The Winter Hunker

Our Christmas tree allows Oliver to bring his woodsy adventuring inside. Sans presents, the space between the tree skirt and lowest branches creates a magical place that compels him to explore the dark spaces between fir boughs. He gingerly treads around the tree, footfalls tentative, one paw held in the air as he sniffs before placing it on the ground, breathing in scents and edging his way around the tree. I imagine him anticipating stags, unicorns, elves and trolls around the bend. Most of the year Oliver emerges from these treks around shrubs and trees adorned with fir and pine, leaves and twigs, a contented, far-away expression in his eyes, looking every bit the child emerging starry-eyed and joyous from a foray into fantasy.

Come December I feel pulled in two directions. One is Oliver-like, which I'll return to in a moment. The other, the stronger pull, inclines me to get our tree up--and early--and to deck our home with boughs of holly and whatnot. I'm inclined to plan cookie baking dates, shop for Christmas gifts, plan gatherings and schedule which bazaars, plays, concerts, and parties that I'll attend.

I enjoy entering the hoopla--hopping on the slide that sends me careening through these late autumn and early winter days from Thanksgiving to the New Year.

More accurately I mostly enjoy the ride.

When I stand outside of All That I feel another pull, an invitation more akin to Oliver's strolls in the woods that seeps up from the quieting earth. I sense it when walking in the morning dark to pray in the prayer cabin before opening the goats slumbering below. It emanates from the quiet woods I walk around Fern Creek, the fir needles along the path a damp carpet under my feet that encourage me to meander slowly and take note of what just might be around the bend. This pull invites me to hunker down, to wrap up in one of several cozy afghans, throws, and quilts I have been given over the years. It inclines me to light a candle, to sip tea, and sometimes to take the wrappings and tea outside to the porch swing and watch the moon and stars. It invites me to wait in the dark, knowing more darkness will come, but light will return, eventually and predictably.

Honeybees cluster together in their hive in the winter, keeping each other warm. Bears hibernate, literally taking a long winter's nap. After bulking up and stashing winter supplies in caches here and there, squirrels stay in their nests, dens and dreys most of the day, sleeping 18-20 hours a day (compared to 15 in the summer), often opening their homes to other squirrels so they can share the wealth of each other's body warmth.

Non-human members of my neighborhood hunker down once the cold of shortening days settles in. They wait, resting, dreaming, and remembering, that this dark cold too, will eventually pass. I wonder what stories they tell, what dreams they dream, what comfort they draw on as they nestle into each other for what must feel like a very long winter's night.

Surely this is a wisdom passed down through the generations.

I wonder what good might come to me, to my community, to the world, if we followed this gentle rhythm of rest, slowing down the engines of stuff-making and bright lights and loudness to quiet and still our souls. What might come from warming ourselves in each other's comforting presence as we share dreams and fears, joys and losses from our storied lives during our winter hunker?

Sure, I pulled out my tubs of decorations, have gifts for my loved ones, baked and gave away lots of cookies, and will invite friends to our annual Winter Solstice gathering. Maybe though, I'll be okay just attending one concert and bypassing all bazaars. Maybe I'll try to keep more evenings open to walk and listen to the woods before nestling up with a book and a cup of tea.

Something gets honored in all that. Lost gifts surely get found. Perhaps the most profound of those just now is that Peace, Light, and Warmth are coming--and have come already--permeating the darkness of these days, with a promise to expand into the dark cold within my own soul.


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