This is a Christmas column I wrote six years ago and it still conveys what I want to say.
We all recognize, if not celebrate, the darkest time of the year and the returning of the light. The early Christians set the birth of Christ at this time to replace the pagan Roman holiday of Saturnalia, but also for the obvious symbolic significance of the return of the light, which has inspired all religious traditions through the ages.
For me, it is a time to be snug and warm inside with a good book, or with family and friends, but also, I have to admit that I have to deal with a bit of depression, the so called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Contrary to what I’ve expected, I’m finding that spending more time out in that cold wet dark (CWD) actually helps. I realize that it isn’t all dead out there; there are seasonal birds, the little brown wrens and bushtits that hop busily about in the bushes, the clear straight tones of the Varied Thrushes, the Ravens that seem to be more and more populous, and then the ducks. If those ducks can sit and dangle their bony little feet all day in that cold water with obvious pleasure and contentment, then surely I can find a way to enjoy some part of it, or all of it, as well. When I go out in late afternoon, it is never as dark as it looks from the brightly lit inside.
It never ceases to amaze me how utterly fragile we seem compared to all the plants and animals that live and thrive unshielded in what nature has to offer them at any time of year. The deer, with their skinny legs and thin coats, live day after day in conditions that would do most of us in in a week, or maybe even a day!
We seem to have lost the ability to live outside in the wet and cold. I think it was the party of Captain Cook that went ashore at Tierra Del Fuego at the southernmost tip of South America in the peak of winter. The indigenous people of that area went about in fur robes with no buttons or ties. When they needed to do something, they simply dropped their robe exposing their nakedness and took care of the business at hand. It was noted that when the ship’s party built a bonfire to stay warm, the locals stood a hundred feet or so away naked and sweating! I’ve heard another anecdote about a North American native. When asked how he could go about in the winter with so much skin exposed, he replied, “ How can you go about in the cold with no covering on your face?” Receiving no answer, he continued, “ Indians are all face!”
As we move between our comfortable, climate controlled houses, cars, stores, churches, etc., we seldom give ourselves a chance to acclimate to and experience the real world. It’s hard to imagine how that cold wet dark world actually nurtures and supports us, but it does.
This is just one indication of how we have isolated and separated ourselves from what we call Nature; if we thought we were truly part of it, we wouldn’t continually refer to it as something other. Many of us see that our future lies in being able to abandon our anthropocentric bubble in which we alone decide what we can or can’t do in “our” world, where everything is valued in terms of its utility for us. Over the past few years, I’ve begun to appreciate the position of deep ecologists. Their position is simply that we humans are not the total “why and wherefore” of existence on this planet. We are only a single species in a very complex life system and we have an obligation to respect and support all of our larger self, the world. As our fellow species whom we depend on to maintain the world we know blink out of existence at a greater and greater rate, I think it is clear that we have taken for our own use way more than our share and it is time to scale back.
For those holiday blues, I recommend taking a quiet walk in the woods. Commune with who and what is out there, give yourself time to let your eyes get used to the dark, your ears attuned to the quiet, and your skin adjusted to the cold and damp. Let the “out there” become “here,” and you may be better able to enjoy all that the season has to offer.
Hope your dark time is both festive and meaningful!