Friday, November 25, 2022

Friday Ramble - Winter

This week's word hails from the Old English *wintru and Proto-Germanic *wintruz, (also the source of Old Frisian, Old Saxon, Old High German, Scandinavian, Gothic and Old Norse forms). All probably mean "the wet season" since winter is usually the wettest season of the year. There are several different proposals as to the word's Proto-Indo-European (PIE) origins but the most common is that it is connected to *wed- or *wend- meaning "wet". There is also the hypothetical PIE form *gheim-" to consider.

Most cultures on this island earth have a word for winter, and it has a singular place in our thoughts, dancing dramatically in a stronger light than its other, more moderate kin. Those of us who live in the north tend to predicate our agricultural and culinary activities during spring, summer and autumn on making ready for the long white season.

Early Anglo-Saxons measured their calendar years from one winter to the next because of winter's ferocity. In Old Norse, the word etrardag was used to designate the first day of winter in the old calendar, 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 Edda of Norse mythology, 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 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, and I cling tenaciously to that thought in the depths of frozen January. Somewhere in the world, it is warm and sunny and sentient creatures are kicking up their heels in the light.

Winter is a time of darkness, rest and rebirth, but it gifts us with the most brilliantly blue skies of the calendar year by day, and the most spectacular stellar expanses 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 stars seem so close one can almost reach up and touch them. Winter star gazing is a chilly business, but one I would not miss for anything in the great wide world.

When winter begins, I think about 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 household larder. I ready skis, snowshoes and boots for treks in the woods. My rambles will be brief again this winter, but I will still be taking them, and Beau will be with me every step of the way.

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

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