By Laura Hill
When I met the Wisest Woman I’ve Ever Known, I was still a die-hard winter hater.
I hated temperatures that demanded hats and scarves and gloves. I despised numb feet, coming home from work in the dark, frozen car door handles, treacherous sidewalks that promised broken limbs. I loathed snow. All of it. As far as I could see, the only good things about winter were fireplaces, hot chocolate and the Winter Olympics on television.
Winter, to me, was a seasonal curse. In fact, having literally been blown over by a bitter wind on Riverside Drive one February, winter became a major reason I fled New York for the South years ago. Let others ice skate in Rockefeller Center or sled in Central Park.
I was leaving behind frozen fingers and muddy boots in favor of the promised land of November barbecues and March daffodils.
Imagine my chagrin when the first snow arrived in Nashville that year, albeit in January and not late fall, and with it my acquaintance with Middle Tennessee’s infamous ice storms.
I won’t dwell on our local drivers’ reaction to winter, which seemed to be guided by two cardinal rules: When it’s snowing or sleeting, drive as fast as you can to the grocery and then race home. And be sure to hit the brake as hard as you can every time you see another car.
Clearly, I had not escaped winter altogether. There was still the boredom of those long, dark winter months, the unwelcoming blast of chilly air just outside the storm door, and the stripped tree branches, brick-hard earth, and endless days of leaden skies. Each December I found myself facing discontent of a too-long season that inflicted itself on us with inescapable regularity.
Then came the Wisest Woman I Ever Met.
A native of rural Middle Tennessee, she was both contemplative and widely read in worldly literature, from Lao Tzu to Shakespeare to Whitman. Her understanding of the natural world and its seasons was the deepest and most appreciative of anyone I had ever met.
She loved winter, she gently explained to my amazement, although she had not always felt that way. But she had slowly come to the realization that winter was not the bleak, lifeless stretch of time it seemed to be, a time of stasis and withered inactivity. She had come to look at winter as one of the most vital times of the year, not as showy as spring or as dramatic as autumn or as boundless as summer, but bursting with its own private energy.
She taught me that while we may not see it in these darker months, every tree branch, every frozen inch of earth, every iced-over pond is harboring life in its most essential stage, at rest and readying itself for the spring that is to follow. Not dead – very much alive. Without that rest, there would be no spring.
Winter, as she saw it, is a hard-earned and happy necessity, a time Nature regroups and gets ready to burst forth again in full measure.
And it also cues us two-legged creatures of Nature. Take time to rest. Take time, in this spare season, to contemplate the richness of seasons behind and those ahead. Take time to rejuvenate and reconsider what snowy fields and ice-trimmed trees obscure from our impatient eyes.
Winter – a wonderland indeed.