Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday Ramble - Winter

Icy winds blow, snow falls (and falls and falls), temperatures tumble headlong into the low minuses, turning winter wanderers into hunched and swaddled figures perilously riding waves and dunes and billows of sparkling white.

Winter comes to us from the Old English word meaning "fourth season of the year," from the Proto-Germanic wentruz, the Old High German wintar, the Gothic wintrus and the Old Norse vetr, all possibly originating in the Proto-Indo-European wed, wod or ud meaning "wet" or wind. There are possible ties to the Old Celtic vindo meaning white, although that word sounds more like the modern English "wind" to me.

Wherever it hails from, the word used to describe the coldest season of the year has been with us for a very long time, and the season has special place in our hearts and thoughts, dancing dramatically in a stronger light than its three more temperate kin. We predicate most of our activities in the other three seasons of the year on the things we must do to make ready for winter, turning the earth, planting, harvesting, storing nature's bounty for the long nights time, cutting firewood to burn on our hearths when the snow flies.

Because of the ferocity of northern winters, the ancient Anglo-Saxons measured their calendar years from one winter to the next. In Old Norse, the word vetrardag which was used to designate the first day of the long cold season was the Saturday that fell between Oct. 10 and 16. For the ancient Celts, winter began at Samhain (October 31) or All Hallows (November 1) and ended on Imbolc or Candlemas (February 1 or 2) when springtime arrives. In the Chinese lunisolar calendar, a year is measured from one Winter Solstice to the next, and winter begins around November 7, with the jie qi (or solar term) called the "opening of winter". Calculated astronomically, the season is said to begin at the Winter Solstice in late December and end at the Vernal Equinox in late March - that is certainly not so this far north where winter arrives some time in October and lingers until late April or even May.

It's all relative and a matter of cosmic balance - we owe our existence in this great round and our turning seasons to a tilt in the earth's axis as it spins merrily in space. When winter is beginning here, the happy lands south of the equator are cavorting toward summer. I hold tenaciously to that thought in the depths of January, that there is summer and sunlight and greening somewhere.

Around this time of the year, I briefly consider living somewhere further south where winter is a more temperate beastie and there is less snow and ice, but I love my northern highlands, and that is not going to happen. Rather than moving south, I pile up books and music for the long winter nights and accumulate tea. I stack firewood and count the mason jars in my larder, taking out my parka and heavy gloves and oiling my skis and snowshoes for long winter rambles. It may be a season of rest, rejuvenation, fruitful darkness and rebirth, but there is nothing to compare with the wild splendor of a winter ramble in the north.

6 comments:

One Woman's Journey said...

Cate, thank you once again for your words. Yes, winter a time of rest, rejuvination and rebirth.
It is truly the only time - it takes a while - that I start to completely relax. My winter in the South is much milder but it is still winter and much time is spent inside.

Tabor said...

I love/hate winter. It is like a sweet/sour medicine that helps us slow and restore. I also think about the warmer parts of the earth as I sit wrapped in a throw and look out the window. We still have mild fall weather here, but the cold days are coming.

Lil said...

Everything that you've described about winter here in ontario is why i love winter cate!...except my activities rotate around tobogganing, ice skating, hot chocolate and marshmellows and kid movies. Do me a favor would ya, we just haven't been dumped enough down in the south...could you go outside and blow some of the stuff our way??! seriously!

Mouse said...

This is a lovely post, thank you Cate. I love winter, it suits the solitary side of my soul... though I would wish for more snow and the kind of hard frosts that etched the insides of my bedroom window pane with fabulous ice-ferns when I was a child...

Quiet said...

The picture for some reason reminds me of the Australian desert. The common thread is the apparent and somewhat stark emptiness. Even the colours are similar.

Neither place is empty, of course.

Your blog is such a pleasure, always. Hope Spencer is still well and joyful in the cold.

Wenda said...

Ah Cate, You have me missing the winter cold and snow, though I usually think that I had my share before moving to this temperate south west coast of Canada.