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WINTERING by Katherine May


The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

by Katherine May

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-593-18948-1
Publisher: Riverhead

Winter offers a chance for renewal.

In an intimate meditation on solitude and transformation, English journalist, essayist, and fiction writer May reflects on changes that occur, in nature and in one’s sense of self, during the cold, dark season. Wintering, she writes, “is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, side-lined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider.” The author homes in on one particular winter that began in September with her husband’s emergency appendectomy, which confronted her with the fragility of life and immanence of death. As the season progressed, she also was beset by ailments: tonsillitis during a trip to Iceland, debilitating stomach pain that required months of investigation, insomnia, depression, and bouts of anxiety. Chronicling the months from fall to the coming of spring in March, the author shares her observations of the changes—migration, hibernation, and the dropping of leaves—that seemed “a kind of alchemy, an enchantment performed by ordinary creatures to survive.” Like hibernating animals, May, too, found herself craving more sleep as the days became shorter. Instead of migrating to warmer climates, though, she traveled to see the aurora borealis, and she took a New Year’s swim in frigid water, experiences she found exhilarating. Interwoven with her observations of nature are myths, folktales, and children’s stories in which wintry landscapes often take on a magical quality. For May, winter is “a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order,” and for accepting “the endless, unpredictable change that is the very essence of this life.” Readers enduring forced hibernation during the pandemic may find wise counsel from May: When “feeling the drag of winter, I began to treat myself like a favoured child: with kindness and love,” eating and sleeping enough, and spending time “doing things that soothed me.”

A serene evocation of a dark season.