Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Dark Womb of Winter

Last week, a local radio station had a hippie New Age druidic woman to talk about the role of holly and ivy in the ancient pagan celebrations surrounding the winter solstice. She talked about how the ancient people saw the solstice as the beginning of their new year and how they believed in the circles and rhythms of life. She said that they thought of the time around the solstice as the “dark womb of winter”, which would eventually give birth to the new life of spring.

She made it sound all calm and mystical and relaxing. When I go to Newgrange and I think about what went into building it and the scientific and presumably religious aspects of aligning the window box with the dawning sun on the winter solstice, I can’t help but feel abject misery and terror.

I picture this ancient society, who probably felt very beholden to nature and to the seasons, building a structure to appease what must have seemed like a very fickle sun. I imagine the endless nights of winter and reflect on the strength and gumption required to survive in the dark and the cold.

By ancient standards, I am hopelessly spoiled – I have warm clothes, waterproof shoes, indoor plumbing, reliable heating, a comfy bed and a thick feather duvet. And even with all these creature comforts, I still loathe the long, dark, damp nights. Going to work in the cold, shiver-inducing damp darkness and returning home from work in the cold shiver-inducing damp feels like it is grinding down my very soul.

I want to believe in the womb of winter. I want to picture the delightful birth of spring and its budding flowers and baby animals. I want to trust that all this darkness has a purpose. But when I look ahead and see the endless nights of January and February stretched out in front of me, I mostly just want to kick the dark womb of winter’s ass.

Pam Houston wrote a great short story in her collection of autobiographical essays A Little More About Me. I related to her struggles with depression, a condition exacerbated by winter.

She had a little party with a friend where they went out to a creek on her property and celebrated the shortest day of the year by trying to break the ice on the creek with large rocks. This was a cathartic activity and it made her feel like the solstice marked the top of the steep hill. Even though the days lengthen imperceptibly, they would lengthen.

I found the story comforting then but now I can see that it outlines one of the struggles I am having in my adopted homeland. Winter means very specific things to me – it means ice and bitter cold and snow. The short days in Chicago were a drag but they were not as markedly short as they are here. And the cold here is a special sort of cold to which I will devote an entire post soon enough I’m sure.

I just feel a little adrift. It doesn’t feel like Christmas, it just feels like an endless winter, like Groundhog Day only not as funny. I’m sure in time, I will develop my own coping rituals that will be just as cathartic as dropping 20-pounds stones onto ice. My sister-in-law tells me that repetitive motion (like in exercise) releases serotonin. I must ask her if rocking and moaning in a dark corner or banging one’s head against a wall qualify.


At 21 December 2005 at 18:06, Blogger Paul said...

Woah there Ann, you sound pretty down about the whole winter thing! I hope you feel better soon.

One thing which I'm still not sure whether I adore or loathe about Ireland is the difference in daylight between summer and winter. It is pretty extreme, for me it seems to make the weeks and months roll by very quickly because of how quickly the duration of daylight is changing all the time.

At 21 December 2005 at 20:05, Blogger Mirty said...

Though I'm not too fond of winter generally, yesterday afternoon I found myself really admiring the subtle colors of the winter sky -- the softer blue, the whites and grays. It can be calming. Summer lasts so long here in Texas after a while you want to say, "Turn that darn sun off!"

At 22 December 2005 at 17:18, Blogger Barbara said...

Things to remember about a Chicago winter: 1. 3 degree Fahrenheit with -10 degree wind chills during the day. (Has anyone seen my ring finger....I think it fell off, but since my eyelashes have frozen, I can't really see!) 2. 10 inches of snow falling in one day....ending at 8:00pm. (Has anyone seen the road? I think that I am still on it....good thing that it is taking me 1 and 1/2 hours to get home when it usually only takes me 15 minutes in bad traffic!) 3. Don't you just love the salty crust that has formed on my car. I like to believe that it saves the paint from being chipped away by the ice chunks in the road. 4. -6 degree Fahrenheit with -18 degree windchill at night. (Pretty soon my dog is going to teach herself how to use indoor plumbing!) 5. Oh, and how can I forget....the lovely attitudes of the Chicago population....(Happy Fu**ing Christmas to you too a**hole!) 6. Let's not forget the freaks who come out once a year to drive during the Holiday rush. (Thanks for cutting me off sh*thead! I love checking my breaks at the last minute. That smell and black smoke used to be my tires....) 7. Only 4 more months of below freezing weather....only four more months of below freezing weather. 8. I love shoveling the entire driveway and then waking up the next morning with it completely covered in snow. (I try to consider it a workout, however, my back considers it a cruel punishment.) Shall I go least you have the pubs to crawl into. I couldn't think of any better form of entertainment that to watch all of the locals pass the time away. It won't last forever.....will it??

At 24 December 2005 at 02:12, Blogger Career Guy said...

Now, now. Remember my theory: December 22 may be the first day of winter according to some, but to me, it's the first day of spring, since the days start getting longer. (Try not to think about what that makes June 22.)


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