Updated: Nov 18
There’s something special about the first winter snow. I’ve always enjoyed all four seasons and as a small-scale farmer, I view the quieter, slower, and darker winter months with excitement and gratitude.
Part of this appreciation of winter comes from the simple fact that spring, summer, and fall are usually marked by long days and endless work to be done. It starts with the maple syrup season in March that unfolds into a busy growing season that a warming planet seems to be expanding. This year we had a 70 degree day in November and I was harvesting cold hardy crops just last week!
While I don’t have a favorite season – they all have their own charms – winter is definitely not a season I feel the need to escape from. In many ways, it’s one of the most important seasons since it allows me to rest, rejuvenate, and reflect. It also makes the other seasons more enjoyable. Without the snowy, cold, and dark months of winter I doubt I would enjoy the new sprouts each spring, the vibrant summer growth, or the fall colors as much as I do when I know they are temporary.
Living seasonally is something that is inherent to farming and I’ve given up trying to create a life that is balanced at all times. Instead I try thinking about balancing things over a given year. I could and am certainly trying to do better with setting boundaries and working less, but it’s not realistic to think that summers will be anything but busy given my profession and my life goals. We have a short growing season and if I want to enjoy the fruits of my labor year-round (and pay the farm bills), I will always have to hustle in the non-winter months. Our off-grid living situation further adds pressure to make hay while the sun shines!
This outlook has taken me a few years to embrace and is a big reason why winters have become so precious. Not too long ago, I was saddened by the shortened days after the summer solstice. Perhaps this is because humans have a harder time with loss. Regardless, the shorter days bring hope and joy for the future because they are directly correlated with the length of my work day.
With animals there are no weekends on the farm - winter is my weekend. My days are bookmarked by morning and evening chores. Since we free-range, my days start and end with our animals. Since they “rise and fall” with the sun, at the peak of summer I end up working nearly 16 hours a day. Yet in the winter we barely get 8 hours of daylight around the solstice. I’m not sure if the animals end up sleeping that much more in the winter, but I definitely appreciate the extra sleep I get!
Despite my excitement for winter, every year the transition from summer busyness to winter calm takes time. Usually I have so many indoor tasks that I don’t make time for during the summer that I could easily go on busying myself all winter without taking a much needed break.
One way I’ve learned to ease myself into this slower season is to checkout a bunch of interesting library books. At first, it feels like a guilty pleasure to sit down and read a book for any length of time. It took me awhile to become mindful of these conflicting feelings but it helps to remind myself that winter is a time to reset habits, including the various and often mindless overworking habits I develop each summer.
In the coming weeks I also hope to restart periodic technology fasts, usually lasting around 24 hours. Technology can be a source of good in our lives and I simply like to make sure I’m using it in an effective way that promotes my happiness. Removing all technology for a day is the best way I’ve found to re-establish more mindful habits – or at least make me more aware of my bad technology habits, including using my phone as a distraction.
I’ve also started my annual reflection of the past year as well as starting to think about what intentions I want to set for the coming year. Below are the questions I use, which I came across many years ago from Katy Bowman (check out her site Nutritious Movement).
These questions help me step back from the daily grind that has been my existence for the past 9 months. By reflecting and setting intentions for the upcoming year I also increase the odds that I will use the winter months in a meaningful way that usually makes the next growing season unfold more smoothly. Or at least it prevents me from simply going through the motions of life!
1. What was my biggest triumph this past year?
2. What was my smartest decision?
3. What is one word that best sums up and describes my 2022 experience?
4. What is the greatest lesson I learned this past year?
5. What is the most loving service I performed?
6. What is my biggest piece of unfinished business?
7. What is the thing I’m most happy about completing?
8. Who are the three people with the greatest impact on my life in 2022?
9. What was the biggest risk I took this past year?
10. What was the biggest surprise?
11. What important relationship improved the most?
12. What compliment would I have liked to receive but didn’t?
13. What compliment would I have liked to give but didn’t?
14. What else do I need to do or say to be complete with 2022?
1. What would I like my biggest triumph to be?
2. What advice would I like to give to myself?
3. What major effort am I planning to improve my health in 2023?
4. What major effort would I be most happy about completing this coming year?
5. What major indulgence am I willing to experience?
6. What would I most like to change about my life or health?
7. What am I looking forward to learning in 2023?
8. What do I think my biggest risk will be?
9. What am I most committed to changing or improving?
10. What is one as-yet-undeveloped talent I’m willing to explore?
11. What brings joy and health to my life and how am I going to have more next year?
12. Who or what am I most committed to loving and serving?
13. What is the one word I would like to have as my theme for 2023?