Winter is a Waiting Time
An excerpt from Married to My Garden, my most recent book
Clouds come from time to time—
and bring a chance to rest
from looking at the moon.
Late January and the ground is frozen, the trees are coated with white frost and all the little beautiful evergreen colonies of Mrs. Robb’s spurge are huddled together shivering in the cold. This is a time of stillness. It’s the dormant season, from the root dormire, meaning to sleep. I would like to return to my bed and slumber on this Tuesday morning, but instead I bundle up in fleece and sip hot Earl Gray tea, and write, looking out onto the bleak landscape. Even the rake stands against the sweet gum tree in repose, and the compost pile is frozen stiff. Nothing moves in the garden.
So the sight of a few birds flying between the tree tops is a relief of sorts. Life wants to move. So much stillness smacks of death. I long to go outside and do something—my fingers itch for the pruners and the trowel. I want to pull weeds, to prune roses, to grab a handful of lavender and pinch the leaves, releasing the aroma of summer, of love, of happiness. Winter is a hardship, a deprivation, an absence that makes me cranky. But remembering how cold it is out there, and how quickly my fingers will turn red, I decide to be a bear in winter, to hibernate and be still.
This quiet time is part of a cycle that comes each year, a breathing space between all the planting and tending, all the grooming and feeding. It’s a time to reflect, to look, to contemplate, to simply be rather than do.
In every life process there’s a segment like this. Just before the seed germinates, it sits quietly underground, in the dark, out of sight. A certain amount of faith is required for us to leave it alone under the soil, and let it spring to life in its own sweet time. We wait. The same with the bulbs that we bury each fall. Underground they sit for months, invisible to us, doing what bulbs do in the deep of winter, until it is time for them to spread their roots and send their shoots up into the upper world.
And it is the same with us, with our own internal growth processes. We have a knot to unravel, a problem to solve, and we mull, we discuss, we write, we contemplate, and then, we bury it in our own sweet unconscious mind and sleep on it. The seed, the bulb must rest a while in the dark, must quiet down before it is ready to send down roots and send up shoots and bloom into understanding. Perhaps a dream will come in the night to cast some light, or an insight will appear some days later. No need to rush or worry—the quiet time, the night, the waiting, are all part of the growth process.