Living in California’s central valley is like living inside your house and never coming out. Sometimes you get a little chilly so you add a sweater, sometimes its too warm so you open a window or two. There really are few surprises and when they come, far and few between, they are a reason to celebrate, lament, rend garments or lean back in awe. It’s really quite boring compared to frozen iguanas falling from trees or snow in the Sahara. Often our fall leaves don’t drop until the end of December or do so so slowly that you are constantly raking and bagging the endless chore.
The leaves do inevitably drop and the fake sun, bright but not warm makes you blink and reach for sunglasses.Our eyes are opened to what lies beneath summer’s cover.
At the risk of sounding like a MOTO (Master Of The Obvious) winter bleakness is a necessary ritual not just because it accents the idea of birth and renewal at the return of spring…that would be the obvious…but because we all need to peel down at least once a year and take a look at ourselves. Yes, yes, you’re thinking of New Year resolutions and the pledge to be better in the New Year. But I’m not.
Over the last few days, I seem to have been bombarded by images of the soul (mine and others’) bared to their naked truths.
As I walk along the river I see bare trees that silhouetted in the pinkish cantaloupe winter sunset reveal the giant parasitic mistletoe bunches threatening to kill them as they stand in silent memorial to thoughtful engineers who allowed them to thrive when the levees were built.
We too in the winters of our sad experiences are asked to reflect inwardly to see where in fact our parasites live and what to do about them. The death of a friend reminds us that life is short. While we live with the false benefit of hiding or ignoring the parasites that threaten us daily, an untimely death is the sudden, urgent reminder that life is fleeting and pulls off the blanket like a mother tired of telling you to get up for school. We are left looking inwardly wondering if we actually want to cut out the bad stuff or just crawl back under the covers and defy the cosmos.
A drive along a busy avenue lined by rose bushes long stripped of their leaves but blooming in neon red-orange colors. The sad beauty through the leafless branches attacked by wind, rain and car exhaust is not lost on passers-by. But there is nothing to be done except admire their strength and beauty and hope for a quick recovery during future better, sunnier times.
Powerwalking through a light drizzle in the downtown suddenly exposes by sheer emotional shock, all the usually invisible souls living on the streets. They huddle in doorways of the now less busy pedestrian sidewalks and seem to “pop” out at you as you wonder how they will keep dry. Their shining neon red-orange souls beckon as if to say, I am here. We ask then, why is a flower less valuable if it has not a beautiful pot in which to sit?
My neighbor’s beautiful Chinese Pistache stands naked, shivering but dutifully holding a perfectly shaped bird nest. It too sits empty, pelted by rain and shrouded in early morning fog. It too holds the memory of warmer times and the promise of new life. Inside, we take to the chores of uncluttering, giving away, cleaning and remaking our own nests.We are shoved into action through the inevitable proximity that colder weather brings. Left to stare at the clutter of our daily lives we are moved to act….or achieve catharsis through writing to further postpone and procrastinate.
The occasional frost warning sends me scrambling to rescue my prized navel oranges that by design are best when left on the tree to ripen at their pace, but cannot withstand a hard freeze. We are then urged by the weather to decide how much of a risk to take. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but always we are reminded that decisions must be made based on what we are willing to suffer: drippingly sweet fruit or none at all.
Truly, isn’t that the point of it all anyway…decisions? Winter helps us slow, retreat, evaluate and consider. Most importantly, however, like anything else, we are served only a plate of choice and awareness, the foods most longed for by our truest selves. Without choice and awareness, we are just going through the motions without an appreciation of what we have. The nutrients found in these soul foods cannot be accessed without sound decisions. It requires action to make change happen. And that is what we call spring.
So I will pay attention to this winter’s lessons. I will listen to my own awareness and be open to the choices I have. In deciding to proceed I will honor myself, and my soul will be glad and show gratitude.