This has been a hard winter. It seems like the first one in a long while. With climate change altering the way we experience the seasons, we have seen winter wane. For the past few years, the weather has been mild, or milder than my memory and imagination are able to recall. We have had fewer frigid days. The snow has come and gone quickly, with little remaining.
Winter has seem to have had a declining impact on us.
Not so this year, in our part of the world. Winter has had its way with us.
We have felt the impact of weekly, sometimes daily, snowfall that has at times climbed into the double digits. I have been out many times in the early morning with shovel and de-icer at hand to clear a space for our elderly dog's necessity and the steps and walkways around the house.
We have even looked with concern at the snow pack on the roof. Will its weight be too much for the trusses? How do you know when it is time to get up there and clear what you can in order to avoid a roof collapse? Those worries sound more like the concern of someone living on the lee side of a Great Lake who fears lake effect snow...not of someone living on the windward side of the shore of a mid-Atlantic state.
This has been a hard winter.
It's been harder on others, to be sure. Those who can't "go inside" face exposure. The homeless, and those forced to work outside in intemperate weather know this winter's impact more than we. The animals, as they scratch at the surface, or burrow beneath the snow are becoming more desperate. I saw hundreds of robins one morning, when it had warmed enough to allow me to walk the dog safely, clustered around a shallow puddle that had formed in a neighbor's yard. It was the only fresh, unfrozen water I had seen in weeks outside what had flowed from my tap in the house.
That sort of winter does something to our souls. We find ourselves turning into the deeper folds of our consciousness. Even the most cheerful and optimistic of us engage in a withdrawal into self that is less like seeking our center as much as a pulling up and in of our awareness. Much like our bodies pull our blood in toward our vital organs from our extremities to conserve body heat, out thoughts and attentions pool up around our souls. That is perhaps a good thing in terms of self-preservation. Body heat keep us alive. "Soul heat" should need to be conserved as well, yes?
Not so much.
Seeing those robins clustered around that precious little patch of unfrozen water knocked me out of my self-involved reverie about how cold and discomforting it was to be outside with an elderly dog that morning. It struck me that a hard winter should bring with it a resolve on our part to extend what warmth we have to encompass other's needs as well as our own. No matter how hard out winter becomes, you see, there is someone out there whose winter is not going so well as our own. This hard winter has been a gift in many ways. It has reminded me that all of us know cold and want in different ways, and that least that each of us can do is to rise to the opportunity to offer what warmth and respite we might possess to one whose winter-need is great.