By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.
“Oh, Wind, if winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” – P. B. Shelley
Regardless of how miserable winter can be, I love the seasons. My short residence in Florida proved that though an endless vacation may seem tempting, there is something of primal importance in the delineation of the seasons as markers of life, growth, death, renewal, and the passage of time.
I was not surprised to discover that Groundhog’s Day is based on the ancient rite of Imbolc, which like all pagan rituals celebrates natural phenomenon and life cycles of the universe. The Christians co-opted this holiday (among others) and created the mid-winter holy day of Candlemas. Along the way, Groundhog’s Day emerged. At this point I feel compelled to recommend Bill Murray in Groundhog Day since winter is a great time to stay in a watch a movie.
Groundhog’s Day falls between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, the true middle of winter. No matter what holiday we observe, the celebration marks making it halfway through winter. In every other era before this one, surviving until the midpoint of winter was a physical triumph, not just a psychological one. Think about all the real hardships that our forebears experienced specifically extreme cold (without that trusty thermostat) and limited food supplies (no stocking up before a cold snap). Fuel was unreliable and difficult to procure. The food saved for winter was all; when the provisions ran out, there was simply no more. Add to these terrifying realities other issues, particularly with regard to hygiene and illness. Not too much in the way of bathing occurred in the cold months, and sickness spread rapidly, regularly claiming lives. While we have tired of winter at this point, we are fortunate that the season is no longer life-threatening to a vast number of Americans (though the poor and sick and old throughout the world are perpetually at risk).
The seasons demand a visceral consciousness of the natural world. Weather remains a perpetual topic of polite conversation, even if it consists primarily of complaints. Weather is one of the few shared experiences; we sympathize with each other because we endure together. And, like every struggle humans face, weather can reveal wonderful human traits.
Moreover, without winter cold, there would be no need for knitted scarves, eradicating one type of my favorite accessory. I love wearing scarves, and now that it is regularly below 10 degrees, I wear two at a time. My favorite scarves were made especially for me by my generous (and crafty) friends. I can thank Ruthie, Jackie, Ingrid, and Hanna for the extra warmth they’ve brought to me life, in colorful, portable form.
Too often, contemporary life allows and encourages ignoring the natural world. The seasons bring us back to our senses. With the change of seasons comes the joy of anticipation, too. There is always something new to long for, whether soft spring rain, or warm summer nights, vibrant autumn leaves, or the hush of snowfall.