The Winter Wallows: Learning to Appreciate the Dark Seasons

The Winter Wallows: Learning to Appreciate the Dark Seasons

On a recent afternoon, my roommate, Chelsey, and I went to Franklin, a town south of Nashville that boasts a quaint city square lined with storefronts and coffee shops. Standing in the center of the square is a Christmas tree taller than the buildings that surround it, all lit up in white lights. The word “Noel” sits atop a roof and green garland and red bows adorn the streetlamps that line the avenues. The afternoon was a characteristically-winter one—all grey and cold, the light quickly fading—so I bundled up in a scarf and hat in an attempt to keep warm.

Despite the magic of the moment, I pretty much hate winter. My feet are consistently cold from December to March, and the sun hibernates for weeks at a time. I’m the Scrooge of winter; everything is grey and my mood is quick to reflect that. I thrive in the temperate seasons of spring and fall, and I can even get behind the long days of summer, even when the sweaty Southern humidity makes me irrationally grumpy.

The other day, while putting fresh sheets on my bed, still warm from the dryer, I looked out my darkened window and ached for the summer light that lingered well into the evening. But now 4:30 pm arrives, and—thanks to Nashville’s uncomfortably-close proximity to the eastern time zone—with it, comes an early darkness. The bleak chill of winter sends me into a mood that I like to call the Winter Wallows. In the throes of the Winter Wallows, you will find me on most evenings hiding under a blanket on my couch watching entire seasons of The Office and New Girl, absently scrolling through social media and then wondering why I feel so crummy as I crawl into bed at night.

So you see, winter is a season I’ve never been able to appreciate; the second the thermometer measures below 50 degrees, I’m already mentally checked out and imagining the days when I can put the scarves away and break out the flowy skirts again. (Blame my weakness toward winter on my Louisiana upbringing.)

Last year at this time, I was working at a nonprofit doing primarily social work; I was a PR major, read: I had no prior social work experience. And it was hard; I’ve never struggled so much in a job as I did that one. As last year’s light faded into winter and as I continued at the nonprofit, I reverted to my habit of seeking solace in my fairytales of the Future, envisioning what life might be like once I had finally, fully committed to pursuing a freelance writing career. This is my default mode when I am displeased or uncomfortable or restless within the Present: wishing away entire days, weeks, months of my life for a time that I imagined would be better than the season I was currently in.

I do this with the season of winter and I do this with life’s winter seasons; I ignore the present reality while pursuing comfort in a Future that isn’t even real. I subscribe to the lie that the Future will be better than the Present. I do as C.S. Lewis writes: “[we] think of the Future as a promised land which favored heroes attain—not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”

Chelsey and I went to Norway this summer. On a whim and thanks to a cheap flight offer, we spent a week traveling through the western fjords of Scandinavia’s jewel (subjective opinion, soz Sweden and Finland)—driving over snowy ranges and through miles of mountain tunnels, kayaking in a deep blue fjord nestled at the base of snow-capped peaks, drinking coffee in a valley dotted with yellow and purple wildflowers, the bleating of sheep from nearby farms carried by the wind. In the summer, the sun never fully sets—midnight is simply a perpetual blue dusk. In the winter, however, the sun hides itself almost entirely; most of the day is done in darkness.

Despite this lack of light, I read an article about how Norwegians, surprisingly, have lower rates of seasonal depression. There’s an entire word in their language, koselig, that describes a sense of coziness—“it’s like the best parts of Christmas, without all the stress. People light candles, light fires, drink warm beverages, and sit under fuzzy blankets.” These people who straight-up spend four months in near-total darkness don’t see winter as something to be dreaded, but rather a season to be celebrated.

The Norwegians know the secret to winter: they walk through it together and because of this, they do not fear the days when the sun makes it no higher than the horizon. Rather than isolating themselves from others and watching television reruns, they use the cold as an opportunity to draw closer to one another; they rely on the warmth found alone in community. And I think this truth applies to all seasons of darkness, both literally and metaphorically: the best way through darkness is by inviting others to walk alongside you, rather than withdrawing and wishing your days away for the “better life” you’ve placed in a fictional Future.

Can I do the same?

Walking through darkness together begins by reaching out, by stepping out into the cold even when the couch is so much more inviting. I know I must change my language and my attitude toward winter: these cold days are a chance to slow down, to make soup and light candles, to gather with friends in the glow of twinkling lights. Instead of placing our happiness in a Future we were never promised, let’s appreciate the season at hand. Instead of letting the darkness isolate us, let’s use it as the catalyst to connection. Let’s do winter together.


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