Friday, November 20, 2020

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 one of its root forms. Cognates include the Gothic wintru, Icelandic vetur, Swedish vinte, Danish vinter and Norwegian vetter.

The most common words for the long white season have been around for a very long time, and most cultures on this island earth have one. The season occupies a singular place in our thoughts, dancing dramatically in a stronger light than its more moderate kin. Those of us who live in the north tend to predicate our activities in the other three seasons of the year on making ready for it.

Because of winter's ferocity, early Anglo-Saxons measured their calendar years from one winter to the next, and they reckoned their ages by the number of winters they had weathered. In Old Norse, the word vetrardag designated the first day of winter, usually the Saturday which fell between Oct. 10 and 16. 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 Eddas, the fimbulvetr (mighty winter) precedes the twilight of the gods, their last battle with the frost giants (led by Loki) and the destruction of the earth.

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. The Winter Solstice on or about December 21 marked  the longest night of the year, and it was a rowdy celebration. From that day onward, 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 Druids sometimes refer to the Winter Solstice as Alban Arthuan ("The Light of Arthur").

It all comes down to cosmic balance. We owe the timely trappings of our brief 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 frozen January, that somewhere in the world it is warm and sunny, perfect beach weather and no parkas required.

Winter gifts us with the most brilliantly blue skies of the calendar year by day, with stargazey expanses of wonder by night. There is nothing to compare with the sun shining through frosted trees on a cold morning, with the sound of falling snow in the woods, with darknesses when the moon and stars seem so close one can almost reach up and touch them. We are made of star stuff, and that means the twinkling motes over my head are kin. That is truly cool.

When winter begins, I always consider moving further south, but it isn't going to happen. Instead, I pile up books and music for the long nights and accumulate tea. I stir curries, make bread and ponder the rows of jams and pickles in the pantry. I ready skis, snowshoes and boots for treks in the woods. By necessity, my rambles will be brief this winter, but I will still be taking them.

To know the north woods, one has to wander through them in winter, spend hours tracing the shapes of sleeping hills and trees with eyes and lens. She has to listen to snow falling among them and perhaps become a tree herself.


Tabor said...


Barbara Rogers said...

This week winter has arrived in the mountains of North Carolina...though we haven't had snow yet. I love thinking of your tramping through snowy woods to take some of the most beautiful pictures of winter. Please don't suffer for the beauty...but go easy upon your "star stuff body." It also has beauty of seasons.