We’ve reached the point in the agricultural year where fruits and vegetables are not dependable either in quality nor freshness. What an obnoxious, privileged statement that is in a time where food insecurity is a major issue all over the world. Long ago when my unused (cold) bedroom was piled with squashes and onions and the basement freezers were packed full of homegrown garden produce I don’t think I gave any of this much thought but over the years when I had no garden access nor time nor muscles to grow my own I came to depend on what I could purchase locally. In the summer that meant that I ate primarily from the farmer’s markets and farm stands. I knew what a good deal that was, even when the prices seemed high, because I could buy just what I needed rather than having to process 60 foot rows of a particular vegetable all ripening at the same time.
Although “fresh” and “local” have become rallying cries in so many places, winter is a still hard slog. There are, of course, winter farmer’s markets but I tire easily of the root vegetables so prevalent this time of year. The oddity is even if you live in an area which prides itself on its agricultural goods you may actually have a hard time finding what you want, in season or outside of it. Much of the best of the locally grown products go to upscale restaurants even in pandemic times.
It will be late May or later before the chocked-full-of-vitamins produce begins to show up. Long distance travel plays havoc with vitamin content as you well know. In the meantime we can be grateful that in the Northern Hemisphere this is citrus season and the introduction of Mandarins, Satsumas, and Sumos can certainly help with our Vitamin C requirements. Salads in bags are still in the grocery stores of course. There are better tomatoes than used to be available but really, this isn’t prime salad season and expectations that match what you were able to make in August will fail.
In other places and times I’ve been known to drive quite a few miles in the snowy months to stand in the produce section of a really wonderful (but still very small) grocery store just for the infusion of color. You would not believe how long a person can stray from pile to pile of colored fruits and veggies when the craving is that bad. The prices were often so high I did not buy much but some gardener bleed-through from long ago just needed proximity and the reminder that spring would come around again bringing its progressions: strawberries, raspberries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, apples, and finally pears which have gotten me through most of December. I’ve left out many and probably your favorites but oh the juice of a fully, naturally, ripened piece of fruit! It acts like a pulley trying to transport us to what comes after winter.
Compassion and empathy are words frequently associated with Mindfulness and Meditative practice. I’m all in favor of the possibilities inherent in this work. I am, however, wary that any of us without direct and impactful experience in what we are trying to understand come up against a deep flaw in the very fabric of being human. Even when we have had difficulties or traumas in our lives we are apt to project our experience as an overlay when trying for empathetic connections with others.
I am recognizing that the key needed to truly experience empathy or compassion with another is deep listening with our heart and mind pried open. This is merely the opener. To be able to be empathetic to another we have to trust both them and ourselves. We must possess caring, resonance, and love to truly hear and begin to comprehend. Only when we can deeply listen can we absorb that which might actually make a difference. When we think we need to jump in with words or with actions or (heaven help us) with advice we may well be missing the point. Being able to give another our full attention may be the best we can ever give another being.
We are living in a time with every manner of mixed messages flying through the air waves. Even trying for honesty within ourselves is difficult—how often do we try to fool ourselves into believing selfish motivations are actually for the benefit of all? We are so accustomed to canned messages, corporate speak, political rhetoric, and words meant to gloss over the truth of the situation. Being spoken to in this dishonest way fools no one yet no one calls this “newspeak” out for the lies that are at the heart of its very nature.
Heart listening is the way to arrive at compassion, empathy, and truth. Watch for it. Practice it. It allows amazing comprehension you would not have believed possible even when you are listening to stories or experiences far beyond your own perhaps even extending into what you believe to be oppositional to your own ways of being. Even when being in a state of awareness, heart listening is a challenge. Transcending our corporeal reality takes a lot of practice and a lot of trust and love. But the moments where we succeed are soaring and worth every bit of effort expended.
By 3:30 p.m. the light is fading fast. For days spent alone in the house occupying myself with chores and maintenance, I suppose that is all right but I miss the light. Sunrises have been spectacular all week with broad teal strokes balancing among the deep orange reds prior to the sun’s rise over the horizon. The earliest light of course has the deepest coloring; the sky and clouds still the darkest black without the illumination soon to come. We march toward the Solstice and it seems it is possible to witness the diminishment of daylight daily.
Next week that changes and we have the psychological uplift of knowing we are adding minutes of daylight every day that passes from now until the Summer Solstice in June, in which the daily decrease of light is barely noticeable given the number of hours (not minutes) that each day provides. That changes of course but it takes until October to have the shortened hours of daylight really starting to make a difference.
It strikes me that in this year of 2021 and in 2020 and perhaps for some years ahead there is a corresponding diminishment of light in the form of awareness and human behavior. “These are Dark Times” is heard or read repeatedly and I do not dissent from that position. For those of you dedicated to the Happiness Doctrine my apologies, but for me the trite saying “If you are not depressed you are not paying attention.” rings with truth. Surely there are moments of joy but the “big picture” has many dire aspects, “opportunities for growth” if you are bound and determined to stick to the positive despite all evidence to the contrary.
The best books, especially the best books for children and teens, often have a Dark Vs.Light thematic running through them. My favorite, The Dark is Rising Series by the author Susan Cooper lays this out brilliantly for younger and older readers alike but we were all swept into this stream by Peter Jackson’s film version of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Perhaps, if I had had the stomach for the violence, I would have also found this theme in The Game of Thrones. What these sagas have in common is that the Dark and the Light always—eventually—balance out. Star Wars worked on this same theme. This is our Dark Time but there will be another time ahead when Light returns. The catch is how long these periods last. This particular Dark Time does not bode well for those of us who are aging. There’s a good chance that the clock will run out before the tide turns. Is this a cause for despair? Perhaps not. It all depends if there is or what something there is after this. We won’t know until we get there.
The best use of these short, dark days is traditionally a time for introspection, calm, and rest. In that case stay away from media during this time and ignore (???) the past two years of isolation and confinement.
In any case I suggest candles (beeswax preferred, careful of noxious substances and cheapo chemicals used for scent) and do find some time during the night hours to view the stars and the planets. Feeling small and insignificant is underrated. Contemplation on the very very Big Picture is a useful way to spend time as the cycle turns and light begins to return.
From this morning’s ocean there rose sea smoke, the steam that’s created because the air temperature is colder than the water. The first snowfall came in the form of morning-to- early afternoon flurries, predicted to be light, but leaving the ground white and the road and all paved surfaces surprisingly slippery. I’m sure many were happy to welcome this pre-Christmas promise if things to come.
I’d taken down the bird feeders over the summer; there are sound reasons to do so. There may be more sound reasons not to supplementally feed the birds at all but the small birds offer great comfort at this time of year. The sparrow flock that seemed to have done well increasing their numbers over their breeding season went elsewhere when the food sources here were depleted. The crow family, now up to six or maybe seven, have taken to coming by in the morning checking for possible treats. They have been in luck as I’d found peanuts in a large bag, the human non-salted kind in the shell but soon they will have to find their treats elsewhere as the price of peanuts, indeed all bird feed, has increased exponentially. That has not stopped expensive bags of feed flying off the shelves of suppliers however, proving that the pandemic has not affected all equally in terms of economics. Perhaps the spring-summer sparrow residents found a well supplied backyard which would insure their winter survival.
The day of the snowfall a lone mourning dove, feathers fluffed for warmth against a cold and biting wind, was sitting forlornly on the porch railing. Of course by the time I got a full feeder out there the dove had gone, believing perhaps that this was no longer a place to find food. I may have erred in delaying so long in putting out seed. In the last day or so a blue jay came by and a couple of other small birds whose coloring could not be clearly seen in the gloomy north light on the porch. I think it may be a long wait before other species find what I have put out for them. The open exposure here combined with the proximity of the water means a rough fly in on most winter days. Fierce wind is nearly a constant in this, my least favorite month in my least favorite season. I’ve come to believe I can feel the wind blowing through this house which was built just prior to the late 70’s oil crisis that precipitated increased inches of added insulation as a cost effective way to retain heat. This is my reconstruction of something that may not be true at all. What I know is daily I dress in multiple layers of wool and fleece but the cold reaches my bones anyway. This is a deceptively fierce place, where summer’s fried seafood consumed above the rocks is a happy tradition and memory for the throngs of summer visitors.
I believe I’ve said this before: the ocean is wilderness. There may be those making their livelihoods from what comes from the sea in the form of hard and hearty locals lobstering or fishing or those working on huge container ships I see on the horizon waiting to head into port to deliver their steel cases full of goods they are transporting, or those working on the oil tankers that always seem to me to be threatening for precarious shores. The sailboats and pleasure boats are dry docked or have gone elsewhere. Winter days means rough water, too rough to be out there for any reason other than absolute necessity and mostly not out there at all.
I sit on the edge of this slim and marginal band along rock and water that shows it’s darker side for so many long months of cold. There is always beauty of course but the other side of it’s reality is more than a little inhospitable for both little birds and humans .
We’re not yet quite at this stage…but it’s coming.
Before, During, After.
There were many lovely Thanksgiving emails this year and one in particular mentioned the quiet time of winter quickly approaching, a time of thought and reflection. For so much of my—our?—lives that was true. There was often a sense of relief as the hectic crazies of summer finally started to thin out and fall brought a sense of restoring order. The loss of light and the shorter days reminded us that we had things to finish up and each lovely last warm day was a gentle prod to keep going while the weather was good. Perhaps this sense of restoring order is yet another reason so many name fall as their favorite season.
The message of the solace found in winter’s days however finds me rethinking that view of the season. We are approaching two years of pandemic reality that enforced a particular kind of quiet that did not feel like a form of solace. While many made good and creative uses of this time there were also just as many of us who found isolation difficult. We changed gears which may have been critically important physically and spiritually but going into yet another winter of restrictions feels like a too heavy burden. Vaccines felt like they would bring us back to some of what we most loved in our lives but the continuations of “variants” keeps all unsettled. By the time it might be safer to spend indoor time with family or friends we may have permanently altered our concepts of normalized privacy, where our whole house may feel off limits to visitors like our bedrooms once were when living rooms and kitchens were still okay for casual visitors.
I would dearly love to think of blue-white winter days with long, leisurely hours of mugs of hot tea and good books and streams of productive thought leading to new revelations, but my memory pokes me with images of raging seas, howling winds, piling snow drifts, and a sense of permeating cold that physically hurts. Old bones and joints are painful when cold makes movement slow and painful and remain everyday challenges for months at a time. Where is the solace in that?
The obvious but not always considered is that walls not only keep others out but keep us inside. This is the mixed blessing of winter. Where once we could welcome the quiet months as sanctuary they can also be viewed as a certain kind of prison. When we had lots of variations and options we could alter these close and closed perspectives, reveling in winter holiday parties in winter gatherings with friends and family, then retreating into our solitary quiet times. Another pandemic winter means our options stay limited, therefore still a challenge.