I’m writing this on a Tuesday, late in the afternoon. My granddaughter Maeve has gone home for the day. We spent a lot of time today standing in front of the windows watching snow fall, birds gather at the feeder, trees cradle all those white flakes. Snow piled up in the driveway, covered the three heart-shaped markers for our old dogs beneath the crabapple. The world as we could see it transformed into a clean, pure landscape of new possibilities. By the time my son Shawn came to pick up Maeve, we had a good six inches of new snow. Maybe seven, judging from the first cut of our snowblower just a little bit ago.
These first storms of the season here in Minnesota always bring traffic troubles, spinouts and cars in the ditch, people late no matter where they’re going, schools closing early or not opening at all. People sometimes have trouble digging out, depending on whether they own a snowblower and are physically up to the demands of moving snow. Weather forecasters get their moment in the spotlight, gesturing over maps of storm tracks and sharing snowfall totals from all over the state. It’s all part of winter, of life in a climate where snow is a certainty every year.
I love winter in spite of its challenges. I’ve lived in Minnesota my entire life, learned very early that preparation was key to being safe and able to show up to work or school. I’ve also learned winter gives us opportunities to slow down that we should take advantage of whenever possible. During the summer, I am loathe to sit in my office and write when I could be outside. But now, with the snow coating everything and the temperature dropping, my office is inviting and warm, the light through the south-facing window bright. It’s time for all the thoughts I carried in my head all summer to be put into writing or poured into a painting. It’s time to think about creative projects I put on the back burner while I hiked in the woods, pulled weeds, photographed birds. And it’s time to rest: early nightfall, cozy blankets, red wine, good books, and a simple delight in that fairy-tale falling snow.
Speaking of books, I’ve been reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass, in tiny bites over the past several weeks. Mick gave me this book the Christmas before last; it took me until now to feel like my head was in the right space to read it. And I feel rewarded for waiting: this is one of the most beautiful books I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Kimmerer’s combination of plant science and indigenous knowledge is so well communicated and so thoughtful that I don’t want to rush through this text. I don’t want to miss anything important. My years of gardening with Mick have taught me how important it is to pay attention to what is going on in our own little piece of earth, to be patient and wait for it to show us what works. Kimmerer’s book reinforces that idea and expands beyond it to what stewardship of this earth really means. She talks about the disconnection between most of us and the natural world. That disconnection is not a good thing as it keeps us from understanding the very life forces that sustain us all. I’ve felt that disconnection dissolve just a little when I’ve sat in my own garden for solace. I’ve also felt that disconnection dissolve when I’ve watched the falling snow and given in to the invitation to slow down and rest.
Early on in the book (I’m halfway through), I was struck by the stark differences between a gift economy and a market economy, and the idea of responsibility for the gifts we share versus the greed that develops alongside what we think we can just buy. These are ideas I’m thinking hard about at this time of year when every single retailer has a sale designed to make us buy more and more and more with no regard for what that means in terms of having too much, of wasting resources and tossing things out because we no longer use or need them even though they’re perfectly functioning things. I’m thinking about what that does to our inclination to appreciate what we already have. And I’m thinking about the legacy we leave our grandchildren when we are hellbent on acquiring more stuff instead of taking care of our little spot on this planet and each other. It’s hard to buck an entire culture built around money, but there are plenty of small things that shift the focus to other kinds of wealth. The more time I spend outside, quiet and observant, the more I feel that shift.
I’ll be reading Braiding Sweetgrass for a while longer, little bits before I go to sleep at night. I enjoy the way Kimmerer weaves plant information and ecology into stories about people and connection. I want to linger over this book, absorb its wisdom, and carry it forward.
It’s a perfect winter read.
Cover photo taken at Old Cedar Avenue Bridge Trailhead, Bloomington, Minnesota by kcmickelson, 2021.