Discover more from Through The Seasons with Megan Gilger
What To Know About Hibernation
Now is the time to ask what will sustain us through the shortest days of the year
The concept of hibernation is such a fascinating one. In nature, we know that the rhythms of the bears, birds, foxes, and all animals shift and change their routines in order to rest, endure, and find solace during the challenges and difficulties that come with a colder and darker time of year. Yet, as humans, we find it hard to do this for ourselves, yet the older I get, the more I believe it is imperative to live.
Four years ago, I learned how to hibernate in a way that was different than I had ever before. On a crisp, cold, sunny morning (one of the last) in mid-November, our daughter came into the world after two feet of snow had flowed from the sky. When she arrived on my chest in the most blissful, challenging, and spiritual sense a birth can be, my entire life went right into focusing on her, me, and our family. I instantly resonated with the hibernating mother bear with her cubs in their cave, where they sustain themselves till spring came. I understood why the bear closes herself up and prepares well enough to hold herself in that space till the world, and she is ready to return to the sunlight.
During that time, I learned to listen intensely to my body, mind, heart, soul, and more. I had never done this before, and I definitely didn’t do it with my son, who was born 3.5 years prior to her. This time, I knew the consequences of not giving myself time to hibernate, nest, be insular, heal, and accept my season.
Though I could tell you everything about postpartum life, many important things were learned during those days that always come up this time of year. As I hold her even tonight, I am reminded of those sacred and precious restless months where nights and days had no rhythm to them yet felt so tender and calm, and how it is a wonderful lesson in how to sustain ourselves in times of healing and change. From then on, I am reminded of what it taught me about wintering and how November is an important time in our year to transition into this mindset.
The moment the clock shifts and we fall back into Standard Time, our awareness of the darkness is very keen. The shadows play on the wall in new ways as we return from school, and dinners are always cooked in dimmer light near a flickering candle. The fire is going, and we await the flying of the snow that will soon blanket the landscape.
The thing is, though, that sounds beautiful, just as you could describe the sweetness of a newborn, but the truth is these days continue for almost six months this way, and there is a point where we must know how to sustain ourselves in these times. Darkness outweighs the light half the year, particularly in the north the further we rise from the equator. So learning ways to listen to ourselves and our needs about what will truly feed us in every way is important and part of learning to enjoy and survive mentally and emotionally through a season that, for many, is understandably hard.
As a northerner born in the middle of a snowstorm just a few dozen miles south of the Upper Peninsula, I know the challenges and joys of winter in the depths of my soul. In my partner who moved from the south, I have witnessed how much of a difference this preparation and perspective can make in what winter means. The questions and preparation begin now in this month of transition. This is when we set the path to how we will not only find solace and peace with this upcoming season but discover healing, joy, and a renewed connection with ourselves that, in the height of the warmer seasons, can be challenging.
I talk about this in this week’s newsletter and podcast, but if you are a paid subscriber, I discuss ways of being in this season within the Guide to Autumn, which is also helpful.
I love winter, but what I love more is helping others find the absolute gift within the season so many dread. Every season has something to offer us, but to me, the darker times of the year have the most to offer us regarding healing, growing, and getting to know ourselves.
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This week, I also shared these posts for subscribers:
How to Pay Attention This Week - The soil tells time
Of November Sunrises - The words a sunrise wrote to me on the way to a teeth cleaning
How to Heal - Last week’s free newsletter
11/17 Reflection - Weeding
This week was my last true week in the garden. The kind of week where my fingernails will hold dirt enough to show people I spend time in the soil more than I don’t. I have been clearing our lower garden of all of the past season. I let it go in a big way this year. So much so that I should have guilt about it, but I don’t. If I am honest, I fought the guilt all summer despite not carrying it on my shoulders even now as I pay the price for my lack of effort. The guilt would creep over my shoulder, trying to remind me I wasn’t proving something to myself or the world or failing in some capacity. I would hear it and shove it off, but the practice continued.
Now, I am reckoning with what the guilt wasn’t warning me of but also wasn’t lying about either. Here I am on day 5 of ripping out crabgrass that has sprawled in mats through my garden beds because of my lack of care this summer. The grass is nasty, to say the least. I refuse to use chemicals in our garden, so instead, it involves my knees in the dirt, gloves on, hands pulling at the sprawling and rooting bits of the grass and chasing it back to the mother plant. I know this plant well now. It has become part of my life ever since we moved here. In the past, I have let it go in some ways. Deciding I can only do so much with it. Usually, after a few hours, my fingers are completely worn thin, sore, tired, and done in from the work, and I figure this is Spring’s problem.
Not this year. Something clicked in me this year with therapy, where I realized that we have to do this sort of DEEP weeding in our life as much as our garden if we want to see a change. I am tired of the crabgrass, so I have decided, despite my exhaustion, I want things to be different. Little by little, the beds are cleared. My hands are tired. I am tired, yet the soil is loose, open, and free to move, and as a pile of crabgrass grows beside me and the knees on my jeans darken from the damp, cool soil. I see it already.
I am now laying down tarps to heat and solarize the soil all winter and hopefully kill whatever is left that I didn’t find. I am ready for this space to go to bed. I am ready to let it be.
I hope I can see the same gifts in the soil that I see in myself of what it has taken to do the weeding and work. Even in the tiredness of it, there is space made that I didn’t even know I was missing. I have felt the crabgrass creeping into the garden over the years in a way I didn’t know was taking over. Now, though, like me, I believe there is space for new and exciting things to come to life come spring after rest and after some much-needed resetting.
*** These reflections are intended to help you see the truth from the land I hear throughout the week and spend time with it. Longer-form essays have moved to paid subscriptions on Wednesdays. ***
This section is intended to give you a way to look at this season every week. They are high-level ways to connect to the rhythms of your daily life.
Ways to Feed Yourself Through The Darker Days
I mentioned above and in the podcast how we can feed ourselves in this season, so I thought I would give some ideas to get your wheels turning this weekend. Remember to begin by asking what you need most in the following three areas of yourself.
Rest: Going to bed early, even if you aren’t sleeping, may sound odd, but in these cooler and darker months of the year, it is good to settle in for rest more than not. You will find a few nights a week hunkered into bed early, taking some magnesium, drinking tea, and you may just have some of the best sleep of your life.
Movement: This time of year, I am either running or walking outside to prep my lungs, skin, and body to the air but also to get my heartrate up to heat my body. Nothing intense, but a relaxed 1-2 miles is plenty. Evening yoga may be great, too!
Food: Eat in season, particularly right now. The food available right now (kale, chicory, squash, tubers, roots, onions, etc.) will give you all the nutrients you need to feel satisfied in this season.
Don’t skip that Vit D: Check with your doctor on this bc everyone is different, but vitamin D is almost necessary for everyone to supplement with, particularly us northern folks.
Hobbies: My hobby in the warm season is gardening, but in the winter, it is art, sewing, and cooking slowly. I also ski a lot as well. Finding hobbies REALLY helps!
Organize: All those places you never get to organize all year; this is a great time to do it.
Puzzle: Yeah, you heard me. We have a puzzle on the table most of the winter for simply plugging away at. It is a great place to come together, chat, have coffee, connect, and more, even with visiting people.
New Things: If you want to try something, this is a great time. Maybe take some clay classes or start doing sourdough. Anything like that, find something new to tackle.
Community: If you need social, create a relaxed bi-weekly event that requires low investment and work like a soup and bread night with a few friends, a book club, or something that is creative. It will inspire and invigorate you.
Outside time: Every day, get outside! The sunlight is VITAL
Travel: Planning a few trips this season is important for some of us. So, even if you book an Airbnb for a staycation, maybe think about this if you feel stale.
These are just ideas. Not something you have to do all of, but more or less things you can look at and ask if this is something that sounds like you and that it would feed you. Not all of them are right for everyone. They should inspire your own list :)
Here are the things this week that I have been holding at the top of my mind and enjoying right now. Feel free to comment below anything you also love! I would love to hear in the comments. You all usually have some amazing things.
Reading: Seed Catalogs. I will tell you more about why outside of my garden in the near future, but let’s just say I am starting a new project/job right now, and when it is time, I can share more, but it involves growing amazing things to be cooked by a talented person for amazing humans.
Listening: This song from Noah Kahan has been a good listen. I love the term Stick Season to describe November.
Wearing: On Wednesday, it was Michigan's opening day of rifle season. This means we all outdoor woods walkers must be aware of our attire. This means it is time to pull out the Safety Orange for us and any walking pals we keep. I wear a bright orange beanie typically and a jacket that is a bright color as well. This ensures that hunters in the area know me and the dogs aren’t deer, so everyone remains safe. I love my orange beanie, but here is another cute one. Here is also a great bright jacket to wear while walking this time of year.
Doing: Planting garlic. This weekend through next week looks like a promising time to get the garlic in the ground along with other bulb plants. The ground is still a little warm, but I am prepping all the beds for the garlic planting this weekend.
Thinking about: A little bit of a break from the grind. It’s long, about this time of year. I really am longing for more slow mornings, the kind we have in the summer. It isn’t that I long for summer. It is that I am longing for more time to rest in a slower season. I find it interesting how we can have slower times in the summer and sometimes more to do in these times we are hibernating or preparing to. It’s something I am looking to shift in some way in life within the constraints of life as a parent.
Cooking: Buckwheat! Omg, I am not obsessed.posted about her morning buckwheat breakfast, and I started cooking it, and I am really loving it. The nutty and earthy flavor adds wonderful complexity to salads and more. Highly suggest!!
Paying Attention: The new USDA Hardiness Map. If you didn’t see the updates, it confirms the warming temperatures over the last decade. It is both helpful to us gardeners and completely saddening as well as we see our effects on our climate’s temperature.
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