Weathering the Season

by Amy Nicholson

It almost scares me to think we’re entering winter again. The very thought of the darkness and cold fills me with dread. Here in the Northeast, it’s like a tunnel we enter and don’t emerge from for months. In summer, the living was easy, and even with a slight chill in the air, autumn was pleasant. The days still seemed long enough. But it was deceiving. All that time we were running around in the sun, the days were growing shorter. Maybe we don’t notice it as much when the leaves are still on the trees, and it’s still relatively warm outside. But when it gets cold, we notice the darkness more. At my age, I’ve seen enough winters to be familiar with the cycle, but it doesn’t make it easier to face the darker days.

I admire people who adore winter. All those hitting the slopes and sledding and skating the pond across the road and ice fishing. I want to be tough like my brother-in-law, the dairy farmer, who goes to the barn to milk sixty cows at 3:00 AM and 3:00 PM no matter how dark and cold it is. I am puzzled. These folks outside are experiencing the same weather I am. How are they not miserable? I’m sure it’s a matter of perspective. The pros must outweigh the cons. When you’re doing your thing, maybe it’s a distraction from the discomfort. Or you’re being carried along by what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called flow, joyfully absorbed in the task at hand. Or maybe not even that. Maybe they are just doing what needs to be done. Maybe I should just stop whining. 

I want to love winter, embrace it. But it feels unnatural to me to be outside when the world seems like it doesn’t want me there. I just want to go inside, curl up, be cozy. Instead of hugging the season, my mind drifts to hygge instead. That rich Scandinavian word that describes a feeling of coziness and contentment. How to find comfort as the days grow shorter? How to ease winter’s blow?

In the process of preparing for winter, I’ve reflected on how my environment and the things I put into my body (and my mind) affect me. It’s been the most interesting aspect of this endeavor. I’ve read suggestions for encouraging a sense of coziness and fending off depression. I’ve perused such lists and chosen a few that resonated with me. My house is fairly comfy already, but I’m making a few fun changes, and being intentional about using tangible things (or putting a new twist on familiar things) in order to enrich my life. The things I’ve chosen to focus on are: lighting, tea, plants, and books.

I know lighting affects me. Last year I redecorated my bedroom. In the process, I bought a set of nine battery-powered candles of varying heights. The set even came with two remotes. I placed a few on my dresser and the rest on my bookcase. I rarely buy myself anything frivolous, but it was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. And it turns out, it wasn’t all that frivolous. Now part of my bedtime routine involves clicking on the candles and turning down the bed before I change into my pajamas and brush my teeth. The soft lighting genuinely makes me feel more calm. So this season, my hygge assignment in the lighting department is to add even more of a glow, to hang a string or two of soft whites to warm otherwise dark corners in the living room. It might even prevent the post-holiday blues for me, since the reason I don’t like taking down the Christmas tree is because the room suddenly goes from colorful and festive to dark. Lights definitely add cheer.

In addition, pulling off snowy mittens and wrapping my hands around a hot drink warms body and soul. Although I enjoy the smell and taste of coffee, these days my blood pressure prefers decaf. I’m also not an all-day coffee drinker. I resort to the wonderful alternative–herbal tea. Fortunately, there is a world of possibilities here. I’m eager to explore it. Fruity teas, florals, spices. Anticipating the upcoming chill, this year I took my teapot (and tea cozy) out early in October. Although tea is something I enjoy all year, I’m looking forward to expanding my horizons and trying some new flavors. Perhaps I’ll even use herbs like pineapple sage and anise hyssop, I harvested and dried from my garden to create some homemade tea blends.

Another way to make home more cozy is to add houseplants. Here I have to confess that although my outdoor gardens have always done well, I’ve never had much luck with houseplants. Traditionally, (and to my chagrin) if I didn’t over- or under-water them, I ended up neglecting them altogether. More recently, though, it’s been better. I had three plants on my kitchen counter: an orchid, an aloe plant, and a jade plant. They were all gifted to me, and, I’m happy to report, they are all still flourishing. When we took the air conditioners out of the windows in October, letting more light in, I moved the aloe and the jade to the bedroom. I didn’t think such a small change would make such a big difference, but it really did. Three seasons of the year I spend a lot of time watching trees, plants, and flowers outside. I have vegetable gardens, perennial flower gardens, and potted plants on the deck. I knew my body and mind felt better after spending time outside with my hands in the dirt and the sun on my back, but it wasn’t until I moved a couple plants into the bedroom, that I noticed how restorative it is for me to watch the sun play on the green leaves.

And, lastly, I’m going to lose myself in books. They transport me. I’ve already been to places like Tuscany with Frances Mayes, Prince Edward Island with Anne of Green Gables, Treasure Island with Long John Silver. As winter settles in, I’m going to be more intentional about diving into new books and letting them whisk me away to yet more exotic places and distant times. Whether it’s fiction or non-, a well-written story can warm my toes better than fuzzy socks and make me forget the 4pm darkness closing in around me. Likewise, I also curl up in the comfort of words when I’m writing. It transports me to poignant places in my memories and being in that zone makes me more aware of the wonder around me. Suddenly, I’m in awe of the billions upon billions of snowflakes resting on each other in a heap in my front yard. I’m reminded that while I’m sad because I’m missing the sun, that sun is still out in space shining, and I’ll see it tomorrow.

I’m trying these hygge strategies because although I can’t completely hibernate, I am tempted to shorten my days outside. But I know spending more time away from sunshine and fresh air will eventually only dampen my mood even more. If, like the skiers and the skaters, I can find a pastime I actually enjoy doing outdoors, maybe I too could learn to relish the nip in the air and re-imagine the velvety darkness. I could gradually increase my tolerance. I could maybe start by star gazing for ten to twenty minutes on my deck and then work up from there. But I will be gentle with myself. The process of building resilience doesn’t have to be drudgery. 

I know I will still need to brave the cold, shovel my car out of the snow, warm it up, go to work. I still have to take the dog out to run and play in the morning before I leave. I know it’s good for me to pull on furry boots and venture out of my comfort zone and feel the frosty air on my face. Maybe the more I do it the less miserable I will be. But I also know I have gifts in my tool belt to ease the discomfort and offer a glow to warm my soul. So after I come back in the house from a chilly night time adventure, I’ll treat myself to a hygge hug. I’ll plug in the twinkling lights, chat with the jade, try a new chai, and wrap myself in the comfort of words.

photo credit: Sixteen Miles Out, Unsplash