Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Ramble - Winter

This week's word comes from Old English wintr, thence the Proto-Germanic wentruz meaning "wet season", both originating in the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) wed, wod or ud, meaning "wet" or "wind". There are possible ties to the Old Celtic vindo meaning "white", but that word always sounds more like the English "wind" to me.  The Old Norse vetr sounds like the present day "weather" and may indeed be its root. Cognates include the Gothic wintru, Icelandic vetur, Swedish vinte, Danish vinter and Norwegian vetter.

Wherever it hails from, the most common word for the long white season been around for centuries, and most cultures on this island earth have a word for it, at least those cultures in the northern hemisphere. The season occupies a singular place in our thoughts, dancing dramatically in a stronger light than its more temperate kin.  Those of us who live up here tend to predicate our activities in the other three seasons of the calendar year on making ready for it.

Because of the ferocity of northern winters, ancient Anglo-Saxons measured their calendar years from one winter to the next. In Old Norse, the word etrardag was used to designate the first day of the cold season, usually the Saturday between Oct. 10 and 16. For the Celts, winter began at Samhain (October 31) or All Hallows (November 1) and ended on Imbolc or Candlemas (February 1 or 2) when springtime arrived. Northern ancients were sure that the world as they knew it would come to an end after the most savage winter in history.  In the Edda of Norse mythology, the fimbulvetr (mighty winter) is one of the events that precedes the twilight of the gods, their last battle with the frost giants (led by Loki) and the destruction of the earth.

Ancient Celts celebrated the Winter Solstice on or about December 21, the longest night of the year.  From that date on, the light of the sun would return, a little more every day until the Summer Solstice in June. The legendary King Arthur was believed to have been born on the Winter Solstice in Castle Tintagel in Cornwall, and in recognition of that, Druids sometimes refer to the Winter Solstice as Alban Arthuan ("The Light of Arthur").

It all comes down to cosmic balance. We owe the lineaments of our existence in the Great Round to a tilt in the earth's axis as it spins merrily in space. When winter reigns here in the north, the happy lands south of the equator are cavorting in summer. I cling tenaciously to that thought in the depths of January.

When winter starts rattling the gate, I shiver and consider moving further south, but it isn't going to happen, and I do other things. I pile up books and music, collect canisters of tea, concoct fire breathing curries. Cumin, coriander and sambal oelak seem to wind up in almost every pot of "stuff" I put together between now and the end of April, and I may just come up with my own recipe for chili gelato this year. A local café serves one containing dark chocolate, hot chilis and a pinch of cinnamon, and it is to die for.

My cross country skis, snowshoes and mukluks are always ready for an outing. Winter is about fruitful darkness, rest and rebirth, but it also gifts us with the most brilliantly blue skies of the year by day and the most spectacular stars by night. It would be shameful to stay indoors by the fire and miss them. Although my rambles have to be brief this winter for health reasons, I will still be taking them.

To know the north woods and eastern Ontario highlands, one has to journey through them in winter, spend hours inhaling the fragrance of fresh snow and spruce, drinking in the shapes of sleeping trees with eyes and lens. She has to listen to snow falling on the bare branches, perhaps become a tree herself.


Pienosole said...

Reading this as I watch the first snow of the season blowing outside. You've written beautifully about this season. Is there any sound more peaceful than the sound of snow falling on trees?

Angie said...

So, Cate, I have been MIA in blog-reading for too long now, and especially realizing how much I miss you, and yours, and the little blue house in the village. Have just read about Spencer's trip across the Rainbow Bridge, and my heart breaks. Having had to release my sweet, beautiful Bayley at the end of February, I know all too well the emptiness of heart and soul and house. I am so happy that Beau has come to hang out with you in the little blue house, and will cozy up to the fire with you as Winter comes creeping in. So glad he is beside you on your rambles. Hoping that your health is becoming less challenging. You are such a beautiful word-crafter, and I soak it all up.

Tabor said...

Thanks for helping to bring beauty to this cold.