I had been reading a book called Wintering by Katherine May when everything melted at once. It’s a memoir of an amorphously weak season in the author’s life and how she learns to embrace hurt and hibernation more graciously. May titles the chapters by month, from September to “Epilogue—Late March,” and I decided to read each chapter only in the month it supposedly described.
My favorite parts arrived in the depths of winter—bits of pop science and historical trivia cut up her accounts. May details various antiquated practices and forgotten knowledge which suggest we reconnect with cyclical liturgies. They demonstrate alternatives to the linear climbs of our subconscious rubrics for self-improvement, grief, and recovery.
For example, before artificial light was invented, people were more inclined to rise and set with the sun. To get through the winter months, it is likely people actually slept in two distinct four-hour periods, with two hours or so of wakefulness in the middle of the night. This dark and dreamy time held unique possibilities:
This time was used to pray and reflect, and to interpret dreams, which were more vivid at that hour than upon waking in the morning. This was also a favorite time for scholars and poets to write uninterrupted, whereas still others visited neighbors, engaged in sexual activity, or committed petty crime. (Biphasic and polyphasic sleep — As historical norm, Wikipedia)
I learned about Stonehenge, Icelandic bathing culture, and the hibernation patterns of bees. But as the book continued, May reflects more and more instead. She warned, as the insulating snow disappeared, that all this contains no encompassing lesson or program to impart. Of course, but still. Even though I was tired of it, it ended too soon.
In late February, the littlest sun kept nudging me awake earlier and earlier. The comically large snowbanks, on which neighbors balanced their bins each Monday morning, are gone; we see how much trash they concealed, now laying in only mud. My dad asks if I’ve gotten my snow tires switched off yet, so as not to waste their utility, until it’s needed again.
There’s a few rephrasings of a popular tweet that float around every year, describing that rapturous week of first warmth as “Fool’s Spring.” I knew it was likely to snow again yet. But I wasn’t being proven right fast enough.
Publicly, the winter had been making a monopoly on predictions of all sorts, but privately, I was staking out still more consistency and security. Normalcy was on the horizon, but staying safe still meant never getting my hopes up. Never be disappointed. Besides, I was used to this winter. I had learned a lot. I realize now I’ve developed an antagonist instinct to all excitement. I had stopped meditating, or even stretching. But numbness is not mindfulness. I so badly wanted it to be, and so I resented the thaw.
Also, I have bad allergies.
In the late fall, I took my bike apart. Near Christmas, I spray painted it poorly on my porch, “pistachio” green. Then the frame sat in a corner all winter. Too suddenly, I wanted to get it together. I rediscovered all the pleasing simple machines that keep it cranking, shifting gears, quills turning forks, brake pads scissoring taught by metal threads. Now I’ve disassembled and reassembled exactly what I had, only a little more personalized, and running just a bit worse. It’s going to be good. Or at least it will all be cyclical.