I can only imagine the publishers of Katherine May’s book — Wintering (The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times) — rushing to get it out of the galleys and into the stores as the Pandemic hit us hard and retreat was a global movement, as was loss and grief and fear for many. How to make sense of it all was and remains a conundrum of the times. May’s book helps give us some context.
I read Wintering just as Spring arrived, and vaccinations were just underway, and while there was optimism that we might yet venture more fully into the outside world (as has now happened), the warnings were everywhere to be cautious and learn from experience.
Some of May’s passages are just brilliantly beautiful, full of shadowed repose to remember that the dark brings the possibility to nurturing yourself, a reminder that not all is bright and light and sunny. This book is about realistic resilience, and May’s work doesn’t sugarcoat her pains and anguishes and worries.
But it does remind us that the dark may not last forever, and what we do during those difficult times will help us heal on the other side. Her book is divided into the seasons of Winter, and although I read it within a few weeks time, I wish I had savored each section during the time of year from which she writes about. I suspect that would have given my reading of her prose even more power.
Perhaps some other time, when I need it, then.
May shares her own stories, and strategies, and insights about how to grapple with the cold seasons of our lives, and she deftly surfs the metaphors here, through conversations with friends and colleagues, and bringing her own stories into the mix. Her connections to noticing nature worked the best, for me, as she notices the world more acutely even as her world seems more insular as illness and change impact her.
Wintering is a reminder that it is OK to find time to pay attention to yourself, and to use the natural world as inspiration, and reminder, to what may yet come when the season recedes and another takes its place.
Peace (burrowed down but coming up),