The Flipside of Winter
The winter solstice, for many of us, brings about feelings of melancholy, deprivation, a sense of loss. Here in the northern hemisphere, we are in the darkest part of our year. Less sunlight and shorter days inflict a condition of perpetual drowsiness. The colors of winter feel faded, monochromatic. Deciduous trees have long since shed their colors of autumn, leaving tall skeletal remains. Animals (and some humans too) go into hibernation. This becomes the season of no butterflies or hummingbirds, no brightly colored blooms to entertain us in the garden. And then there is the silence. Frigid air seems to amplify and deepen the silence, the stillness and the reticence that are the hallmarks of winter.
There is of course another side to winter, one that nature demonstrates exceptionally well. In the plant world, this season of darkness is welcomed as an essential period of rest and restoration. For human-kind, health is dependent upon good sleep habits and adequate rest. Without it we quickly become dysfunctional both physically and socially. The natural world, of which humans are a part, is no different. The dormant garden should not be seen as dead or decaying, nothing could be farther from the truth. The garden is simply sleeping, preparing for its resurrection in spring.
Historically, the change of seasons had a much greater impact on human activity than what we now experience. But it seems that we can no longer hear what nature is telling us. Winter was once a time to rest, reflection and slowness. A time to recover from the stress and strain of life and enjoy the quiet and calmness. Maybe a period of human dormancy is exactly what we need, to bring balance into our lives and restoration to the body, mind, and spirit.
The Simplicity of Being Dormant
Dormancy, in relation to the botanical world, is a behavioral and physiological state that involves inactivity and a reduced metabolic rate. In northern climates, trees, shrubs and perennial plants enter a resting state where life processes slow down during the winter months. Due to less daylight, photosynthesis is unable to be maintained, so after a brilliant show of color that maple tree in your front yard sheds its leaves in an effort to conserve energy. To the human eye the tree may look like its in a frozen state, in fact the activity within the tree roots, unseen to us, is not at all passive. Those roots, well below ground level remain in a state of resting readiness. As soon as the soil begins to warm in early spring they jump into action, bringing water and nutrients that enable creation of leaves and flowers in spring. Without this period of rest, those spring blooms would not occur. No living thing-plant nor animal-can remain in a state of continuous activity. Likewise, soil life that has survived winter in a dormant state becomes more active as the temperature warms, constructing a nutrient rich environment for seed germination and the tender new roots of young plants. Dormancy is a very important part of the phenological rhythm of nature.
A Coping Mechanism for Burnout
Thanks in large part to this unrelenting pandemic, 2021 was another tough year. We could all use some down time. Burnout has become as wide spread as the Omicron virus and that burnout develops due to persistent stress in our lives both personal and professional. Without intervention it will become debilitating. If we follow the example of the dormant trees, we realize that now is the time to reflect on the past year. A time to rest, recover and rejuvenate. Yet, January has become a time when we are bombarded by the media with calls to improve ourselves, learn a new language, start a fitness program, and of course lose those extra pounds!! What would happen if we chose to resist this culture of reaction and urgency and focus on becoming intentionally less productive for a period of time. The benefit will be clarity of mind and more energy to approach both the good and the not-so-good times in the coming year. There is no need to worry about what you might be missing. Instead gather strength by recognizing all you have to gain by acquiring balance and a refreshed outlook on life.
Let the garden be our guide to this method. If we noticed our vegetable plants did not thrive as expected last summer, a reaction might be to apply a fast acting fertilizer. One that promises tomatoes the size of grapefruits. But this product is water-soluble, it will need to be applied weekly, it will certainly increase your aphid issues and run-off is an environmental concern. Alternatively, we could take the time to think about soil health and find that incorporating organic materials into the soil is the better solution and while not as fast acting, it is much more sustainable and ecologically sound. The benefits of this slower approach far out-weigh the promise of jumbo-sized veggies.
Moving Forward with Intention and Purpose
We all want to be useful in life. We all want to be successful and just like the plants in our gardens, we all want to bloom. How do we achieve this in our fast-paced digital world? To begin,
- Embrace the fundamental laws of nature.
- Take notice and be available to the signs of the seasons. Acknowledge that everything in nature requires a period of dormancy to sustain good health and longevity.
- Follow the example of the garden during its winter repose and give yourself permission to indulge in basic self-care.
Remember that good things, universally vital to good health, are happening just below the surface while you sleep. Remerging after a period of rest and restoration empowers us all to be the best version of ourselves.