A Hard Winter

“In wintertime, all life is on that knife edge between life and death,” said Dr. Kimmerer, the director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. “Winter is a teacher of vulnerability.”

This year a raw and unbridled winter has descended on America. Its darkness is literal, with the coming of the solstice on Monday, and it is metaphorical, with the catastrophic toll of Covid-19, as each day the number of Americans dead grows steadily. Across the country, the arrival of winter has filled people with fear and dread for what is to come.

These next few months could be the most difficult in the country’s entire public health history, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, warned recently. More than 300,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, and by February another 150,000 could die, he said. Intensive care units across the country are running critically short of beds. Families are separated over the holidays. Unemployment benefits for as many as 13 million people are set to expire at the end of the year.

The undeniable hardship of this winter is a reminder that for much of human history, particularly in colder climates, winter was a season simply to be survived. Winter is a primal time of death and loss, and a time for grief. It reminds us that darkness, not only light, is part of the recurring rhythm of what it means to be human.

“I have spent some long, scary nights waiting for the sun to come up. There have also been some long, barren seasons when I feared the sap would never rise again,” Barbara Brown Taylor, an author and Episcopal priest, reflected. “The hardest thing is to keep trusting the cycle, to keep trusting that the balance will shift again even when I can’t imagine how. So far it has.”

How We Survive Winter
The solstice arrives in the depths of the pandemic. But the season of darkness also offers ancient lessons of hope and renewal.
Elizabeth Dias