The illustrious Shiloh Ayala shares these beautiful thoughts on winter. Sit back with a hot cup of tea and enjoy these warm words of wisdom.
As the trees bare their arms to the winter, we throw layers over our delicate bodies.
Over some odd years of following nature’s cycles, I’ve become intimate with the phenomenon of constant blended duality; while my home in the Northern hemisphere experiences bitter winter, the Southern hemisphere turns to vibrant summer. Squirrels hide in their holes for snowfall while humans step out to catch it on their tongues. There is always a “both” and a “neither” and an “all.”
However, my favorite paradox of the season lies in the human’s mimicry of gardens; as leaves fall during the three months leading up to Solstice, we evaluate our lives down to the bone. We face our families, blood and chosen, with their criticisms and their pride. We internalize the winter season, same as when we were kids, taking our life questions into hibernation. We make resolutions. We pray for an easeful rebirth in the Spring.
Humans may struggle with our minds laid bare like the trees, putting on our favorite sweaters and taking in enough sugar to please a goddess, but our gardens make no complaints. They do not curse at the unfairness of their naked circumstances. Bushes without their leaves simply embody reality, which requires constant adaptation. They’re nakedness is included in the wholeness of who they are. There is no “better” or “worse” version of themselves, only growth and death in consistent sacred succession.
So how does a common gardener, with little work to do in the winter besides questioning the rhythms of their life, become centered like the underground roots? The key to internalized wisdom lies in curious observation, and mastering wintertime is no different. Nature calls us to lay down our questions, don our warmest layers, and allow the garden to teach us as it does in its brightest months.
The first thing you’ll notice upon walking through the frozen mud is the structure of the landscape; the bones of the garden’s design are revealed. Places where pathways have become muddled, shrubs needing pruning in previously leaf-covered mystery, mosses thriving in unexpected places, laying a map of differing soil composition. We can see the rot in our wooden beds before the sun comes out, and before we have plenty of other work on our hands. When we embrace the cold and take a walk through the sculpturesque beauty of winter, a riveting story is revealed to us. As gardeners, we’d be foolish to assume that life ever stops moving completely; like us, it simply slows down, often with excessive grace. And though winter is a tempting time to completely close up shop as a gardener, these slow, cold months are exactly what we long for in high summer. “If only I could keep up with these weeds, get to my berries before the squirrels, have energy to rebuild this pathway, or spend all day in the yard chasing cats away and feeding tea to the bees!”
“If only time could slow down,” we gardeners wearily wish every growing season; the trick is that it does slow down, and I’ve witnessed it year after year. One must simply be brave enough to keep a fire going in their house, to warm their chilled toes after a daily walk in the nutritive rain-soaked muck. Gardening makes us sun-soaked and unafraid of calloused fingers, as well as rain-soaked and unafraid of writing notes in the wet. It brings the wisdom of seeing color-saturation and water-saturation both, and as equally valuable. And as always, the garden bursts with deep generosity, as it offers itself as a mirror to our own psychological processes, difficult and beautiful.