My New Year

by Jessica Gillman

In the final weeks of winter’s posturing, as it gnashes its teeth and rattles windows, I struggle with the aching desire to be digging, planting, and sweating in my yard.

The first few months of the year are seemingly the longest and decidedly the coldest in Maine; it is the drudgery of never-ending darkness and bone-chilling stasis. In the Northern hemisphere, during that ill-lit glacial period when one year draws to a close and the next begins to unfurl, there is celebration. I have never cared for the New Year’s holiday, as the event falls during the time of sun deprivation and a struggling to remain hopeful.

Admittedly, Maine is lovely when blanketed in snow and ice, harsh sounds of the world are muffled and the pace of life is decelerated, but the prolonged season of freezing does wear tolerance thin. The oceanic influences in Portland lessen the impact of the harshest weather, but it does remain within the bounds of a typical Maine winter.

Every year, I anticipate the first moment in March or April, when outside I can feel the heat of the sun that has finally breached the fortressed walls of the Arctic chill, melting the frost that has settled in my mind. In that moment, as my soul revels in the warmth, I begin a cyclical and spiritual re-birthing and know my New Year has arrived. Spring is my New Year.

In the spring of 2020, I was given the gift of time to create my own space for gardening, as many businesses shut down for a spell. Normally, after working a shift in the hustle and bustle of a professional kitchen, further bodily exertion is not an option, but removing the work impediment clears a path to dreamed of physical activities. The uncertainty of the Coronavirus’ opening forced millions to remain at home with potentially idle time, and the soil became irresistible with a call to action.

Although the pandemic had added a layer of fear, concern, and stress to everyday living, it did afford the opportunity to exert my body–digging, building, sweating, swearing, and nurturing precious seeds and seedlings into robust and prolific producers of, well, produce. As people of the world were ailing and dying, it seemed imperative to rediscover the peaceful and centering activities of gardening, a haven for my overtaxed emotions.

The fruits and vegetables fed my belly, but the honest and grounding nature of being a steward of the Earth nourished my starving senses. I relearned the beauty of BEING, living fully in a moment of time and feeling contentment. As many do, I find it difficult to silence or calm my mind’s chatter, but somehow the hated chore of weeding became a quiet and restful process. Removing the unwanted plants placed me solidly in my body instead of struggling in the spiderwebs of my mind, and I became present in that moment. Having done all the literal heavy lifting last growing season, I am eager and decidedly impatient for the thawing to begin–looking toward my New Year. 

While awaiting the spring reboot, thinking of working in the rich goodness of the soil, my mind wanders to my past. My mother had gardens throughout my childhood, even when we lived in upstate New York, there were community garden plots. Some of my favorite memories are of playing with my siblings in the little creek, its banks edged with cattails, our quiet oasis in the middle of concrete, noise, and exhaust. The heat of the sun reflecting off the greenery, the smell of green beans hanging proudly on their vines, the ever-present scent of tomato leaves, and the comforting presence of Mom kneeling amongst her plants.

We were allowed, encouraged even, to pick and eat anything and at any time; the explosion of sun-heated tomato juice, the snap and crunch of the freshest bean, rubbing the prickles off cucumber skins–these visceral memories float back to today’s consciousness, harvested and stored by childhood’s unconsciousness. Moments of the past amplify the experiences of the present and give the future an alluring shimmer as a promised New Year. 

Even as the light of the growing season seems a distant and dull glow in the cavernous gloaming of winter, it is enough to illumine the path of hope. When the weight of this time of hibernation presses too acutely on tender emotions, I admire the seeds tucked in the refrigerator as a reminder of potentiality. There will, once again, be beets, cucumbers, melons, squash, tomatoes, the buzzing of fuzzy bees, and every kind of awakening as the Earth spins and tilts toward the nurturing warmth of our sun. Each winter’s day, bundled-up against the cold, overlooking my small yard with its empty raised garden bed, I dream of the expansive growth that will reach above my head and beyond the groundhog proof fencing during the summer. But first, the stirrings of my New Year. 

Waiting is all that is required. As flower bulbs use the winter’s cold to reset their growth cycle, I strive to be mindful that this, too, can be my time to embrace the stillness in preparation for a new season: Regroup, recover, and recharge. This sleepy, sloggy, slothy time of year in Maine, the time in between winter and spring, creates a slower pace without a sense of urgency. Clearing the weeds from my psyche is not as restful as tending plants, but with the removal of that clutter, I rediscover a mindful kindness and gentleness aimed to soothe and heal my belabored inner landscape. Winter is not death, merely a lull as nature applies a gentle braking, a slowing not stopping. I practice this pause until my New Year.  

As winter performs its passion play to a captive audience, I am concerned with internal matters and anticipate the coming warm weather. Soon, the ground will be released from its frozen rigidity and the spring air will be perfumed with fertile assurances of abundant life. Crocus and Grape Hyacinth will push toward the light, broadcasting their colors in celebration of existence. The groundhog will poke her sleepy face from her burrow to nibble on the tender greens of future promises.

And I, with a relieved sigh, will hear the cacophonous migration of returning Canadian Geese, heralding in my New Year. 

photo credit: Aniket Bhattacharya, Unsplash