By Brian Westbye
I love winter and I embrace it.
Having spent all but ten years of my life living in Maine (and all but four in New England), long hard winters are embedded deep in my DNA. I love the beauty and, cornball though the word is, romance of winter.
I love the fiery sunsets that lead to long evenings. Driving the back roads, through clouds of wood smoke (the most intoxicating smell in the world to me), kitchen lights come on at 4:00 PM, a story in every window. Growing up on my grandparents’ farm, after evening chores, nights were spent by the woodstove, playing cards, reading and telling stories and drinking hot chocolate. Cozy, warm, safe.
The days seemed endless, however, and they were filled with work and play: feeding the sheep and filling the wood box and tobogganing and playing football in the endless crystalline snow.
I had a lot to love and embrace about a good Maine winter, because I have always appreciated and lived in the moment while having my winter fun.
Not quite so much now, that I’m the guy that has to shovel and pay the heating oil bills. Not quite so much now that I have to drive through nasty conditions and worry about my loved ones who are doing the same.
The older I get the more cabin fever starts to hit me toward the end of February.
And then it’s March and April, the nadir of my seasonal depression. I’ve always let the depression get the best of me during these bleak days: never willingly, but nevertheless.
The bare season is the worst for me, when the snow mostly melts, leaving diminished piles of gray slush on brown, muddy earth. The bare trees stab the icy blue sky and the March wind is more biting than any wind of December or January. This time is coming, and I dread it.
And that’s where my mindfulness training and Buddhish thought come in.
I survive the winters by being in the moment and looking for beauty and joy all around. And I am reminding myself already that I can do the same when the snow melts and Mud Season—the fifth season on the Maine calendar—sets it.
Now, at the end of February, the days are already getting noticeably longer, the sun juuust a bit stronger.
Daylight Savings comes, and I’ll have a bit more light. And then there comes the day in March or April when the mercury soars into the 50s or—gasp!—60s and everyone ventures outside for lunch. Spring Training is already underway and glorious baseball, the summer game, always takes me home.
The wind is fierce in March, the sky sharp, the contrasts too much to take. But it softens toward the end of the month. By that time, thoughts will return to our camp, and we will begin to make preparations to open the house, have the water pump reinstalled and the dock put back into the lake.
Soon I will be on that dock on a June evening listening to the loons…
And every moment during the bare season, I will be surrounded by family and friends, loved and taken care of. And I will be continuing to practice Maitri—unconditional friendliness toward myself—and continuing to Be There for others.
I will need to stay in the moment for this.
Depression has long been the bane of my existence, and I realize now just how thoroughly I have conquered it. I have long wintered well.
This year I am finally looking forward to weathering spring well.
Editor: Dana Gornall