Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Winter Doldrums

Sometimes, at this time of year, no matter how many "talking-to's" I give myself and no matter how many good intentions to the contrary, I fall into what I can only call the winter doldrums. The recent severe cold and biting winds have accentuated my vulnerability to this winter-induced glumness and admitting that I am weak in this regard seems wiser than denial. I recognize I am not alone in these afflictions and at the same time wonder why some people don't seem to have much trouble with winter, and in fact, look forward to it...though by mid-February I don't know if I have ever heard anyone say, "Boy I wish this freezing weather would last all year."

Winter is still a blessing for those who plant for wildlife and put up bird feeders, however. Hosting the birds and other wildlife that come to share the bounty is its own reward and watching their antics is guaranteed to lift the spirits. During this time of bitter weather the yard has been as active as I have ever seen it, with white-crowned, white-throated and song sparrows busily scavenging on the ground, accompanied by mourning doves and juncos. At least one pair of downy woodpeckers feeds on the homemade peanut butter suet mixture and the peanut feeder, along with chickadees, titmice and white-breasted nuthatches joined, now and then, by an imposing red-bellied woodpecker. The mockingbird and blue birds are feeding at the winterberry bushes, having already eaten most of the old dried crab apples and the goldfinches are still gleaning seeds from the dried asters and goldenrod, and from the sweet gum tree's pointy seed balls.

Recently, while watching the eastern bluebirds and northern mockingbirds, normally insect eaters in the warmer months, I had a question that perhaps could help me prepare for my own trying winter times. Every fall, these two birds must go through a profound change in their feeding habits as the insects they had previously depended upon give way to the cold. They travel as far as need be to find the berries that will sustain them until spring and from all appearances, they do so without grumbling, stomping their little feet or complaining that winter is upon them. Wasting energy on negativity would not help them survive and, in fact, would weaken them. It occurs to me that perhaps they are among the best examples of those who seek out that which sustains life, no matter what their external circumstances. I will ponder their flexibility for a while, considering what their cold-weather habits might have to say to me as I seek to approach these winter months with a more positive attitude.

"Consider the birds of the air" has taken on a new meaning.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The New Year's Wintertime

It is the third day of the new year, at least as we count time. How does the earth count time, I wonder? Would it count from the beginning of the growing season or the ending? Would the earth's fiscal year stretch from harvest to harvest? At what time of year are tree rings laid down and at what point is new growth on turtle shells distinct? And how in the world do shallow rooted plants and hibernating frogs live through this frozen time of year, emerging again to welcome spring when the time comes?

This day, it is hard to believe that spring will ever really arrive...hard to believe that those invisible forbs and buried frogs can possibly live through what seems the cruelty of winter. This is the season in which my faith is sorely tested and tried as I strain my imagination to believe that renewed life is even possible, let alone likely. The words of In the Bleak Mid-Winter come to mind right now... In the bleak mid-winter, frosty winds made moan. Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone. Today, where I live, the ground is frozen as solid as concrete and the winds are bitter and unrelenting, and yet...

And yet, a poem I came across in a British magazine many years ago always brings comfort through the long and trying months of winter, whether my winter be simply the season of the year, or a season of change or perhaps grief. It speaks of purpose during this time of forced waiting, of rest that fuels new growth when the time is right. I have found over the years that it is during these trying times of seeming inaction that our spirits can be fed and deepened if we will but cooperate.

A Time to Meditate

The heart must have its wintertime,
A time to meditate, when peace
Like snow, descends with calming grace
And all life's fruitless worries cease.

The heart must have its wintertime
A time when dreams, like roots, can sleep
And gather strength until the day
They have a rendezvous to keep.

The heart must have its wintertime
An interlude when hope sprouts wings
As bright as any cardinals
And newborn courage softly sings.

The heart must have its time of snow
To rest in silence and to grow.

May God in His mercy give our souls the time of quiet we need now in order to tackle whatever it is that will come next in our lives. And may He grant us patience and attentiveness to His abundant provision as we move forward.