I’ve lived in the north before, in winter.
We spent three years outside of Seattle. I went to school in Boston.
But the Montana winter is something different and beautiful. And I haven’t been prepared for how much the fall of darkness, in the past few weeks and months leading up to tomorrow’s solstice, has brought me back into an awareness of my body, my energy, and my rhythms.
I felt a hint of this during our recent trip to Iceland and the U.K. Particularly in Iceland, the darkness was like a blanket, never fully lifting, the sun barely peeking out for a short few hours a day. And yet, amidst the darkness, the quality of the light was incredible. It was imbued with a warm glow, as if the earth was basking in the small bit of energy coming its way, and appreciating it all the more for its scarcity. (cover photo: the alpenglow in the Scottish Highlands, an unedited photo.)
Coming back to Montana and my first winter here, I’m not sure how much of my greater awareness of the dark is because of my freelance schedule. I’m moving around much more, not locked in a cubicle from morning to evening.
I’m not certain how much comes from the limited ambient light in our small village and mountain forests, rather than the city lights that surrounded me in Seattle and Boston.
I’m curious about which parts of this awareness stem from my yoga practice, where I am daily working to be present, to release the distractions around me, and to focus on my immediate experience of life and breath and movement.
And I’m confident at least part of this awareness comes from the fact that I now live in a 200 square foot aluminum dwelling in the forest, where I’m propelled outdoors for wood, water, space, and air and surrounded by huge windows and the immediacy of the falling rain and snow hitting the roof in a way I never experienced in a traditional house.
But whatever the unique combination of these factors, I’m in love with this experience.
It’s taught me a few things about myself also, when I reflect on what is important to me and how I create my life.
I’ve observed that the sense of overrunning energy but also the overwhelm of so much going on, the sensation that dictated my life this past summer, was likely rooted in an experience of 17 hours of sunlight. This was something I had not experienced for a while, accustomed to summers spent mostly in an office beneath those fluorescent lights. I filled my days to the brim, enjoying the energy but also exhausting myself by not setting boundaries and ensuring I used the sun to recharge as well as to expand.
I’ve noticed the true joy that I experience in the festive lights and sparkling beauty of this stark season, from the glow of candles and the warmth of Christmas greenery to the way that snow gathers on the tree branches and falls softly and suddenly onto the forest floor.
I’m attempting to teach my body to follow its instincts, as much as they’ve been buried by decades of life and work that ignored the change in seasons, that called for consistent effort and routine. To sit beneath a blanket on a Saturday, relearning the childhood love of a book that held my attention for hours, ignorant of social media or other distractions just fingertips away.
I look ahead to the joy of skiing, the quiet peace of snowshoes beneath the canopy of evergreens.
And I’m embracing some old and some new ways of ushering in true winter, with the shortest day of the year and a nod to the beauty of the dark, while I wait for the light.
So many people have shared their experiences, traditions, and practices this time of the year. I’d love to read any particular posts, stories, or lessons you’d like to share. Here are a few that have touched me:
I’ve also greatly enjoyed a course led by Madeleine at The Seasoned Year, which has helped me walk through this season. If you’re looking to more fully engage with your natural world and the rhythms of your year, I recommend following her blog and courses.