By Carmen Mutschele –
Everything you’ll ever need to know lies hidden in a song… well, almost everything. When I first heard the beautiful song “Si” by French singer Zaz, I could only make out certain words. I looked up the English translation and found that the song speaks of a spiritual revolution and the last verse mysteriously alludes to winter.
Maissinos mains nues se rassemblent,
Nos millions de cœurs ensembles.
Quels hivers y résisteraient ?
But if our bare hands gather,
our millions of hearts together
if our voices unite
what winter could withstand it?
Winter is often used as a metaphor or an archetype for a time of “making do” or impending hardship. Whether it’s Game of Thrones’ ominous phrase “winter is coming” or the subtler imagery of this song, the thought of winter evokes different feelings in different people. While the former creates a feeling of dread, the latter speaks of the hope that love and united hearts have the force to transcend even the barrenness of winter.
My own relationship with winter is a complex one. The winters of my youth in Southern Germany were benign with a less rainy Vancouverite kind of feel, and by early March, flower buds opened into full bloom declaring victory over this half-hearted attempt of winter. After moving to Horsefly in my early 20s, I looked forward to hibernating with my partner, and catching snowflakes on my tongue became a favourite pastime. I still remember my first winter here. By Halloween, our peaceful little village quieted down even more under a heavy blanket of snow. In Horsefly, winter came with a full commitment. It was here to stay, and the white countryside was the new normal for the next six months. It was mid-April by the time the snow disappeared. For me, a winter like this was a novelty and by the following March I remember seeing a poster at the local grocery store that said, “Cabin Fever Relief Dance.” In my youthful naiveté I chuckled, “Who would need that? What’s there to be relieved of?”
My romanticized notions soon gave way to the harsher realities of Canadian winters. Needless to say, the novelty wore off and I began looking at ways to make my more extroverted personality fit into the confinements of winter. As the years went on, I found myself living on my own, and winter became a time where loneliness was more pronounced and everything seemed a little harder. Fall, my favorite time of year, was spent in chipmunk mode gathering firewood in a race to beat the first snow fall. I spent those winters in a small drafty cottage, with only a little woodstove for warmth. While this place had its own magic, I often felt stretched to the limits dealing with the cold. I would come home late at night after spending a couple of days away, only to find bringing the house to a decent temperature before going to bed was impossible. On a good day, my wood stove was compliant and eager to warm up. On other days getting quick heat out of it was a struggle. I would leave my coat and toque on, exchange my mittens for fingerless gloves, find a spot closest to the fire, and pick up my guitar and play. Looking back, it felt like a very creative time. I played often and wrote many songs in those cold hours by the woodstove.
I dug deep during those cold months. Tapping into my creativity was a wonderful way to hear what was going on inside of me. I learned that gathering with friends is vital and community takes on a whole new meaning. In the winter, connections with people seemed more wholehearted, and the value of friendship came through in the darkest time of year. Maybe in these times we remember that we are not the fierce individuals promoted by Western society, but that we are clan people, depending on one another for companionship and support. Faces glowing in the candlelight, we huddled close in small spaces, harmonizing our voices to the sound of a guitar. In the still white world, the frivolousness of summer was replaced by an earnestness that was deeply grounding.
Winter has taught me many lessons. I was born on the last day of the year, so it also feels like a time of coming full circle.
In winter we meet ourselves. Distractions fade away and we see what we’re made of. When the busyness of summer gives way to the long dark months, sheer desperation can force us to embark on a journey into the inner realms. In stillness, creativity finds its way to tell our story.
This seems especially true when we are living out on the land far from the creature comforts of civilization. Winter becomes a time to unplug from the collective chant that drives (our often insane) productivity, and we listen deeply… to ourselves, maybe for the first time in a very long time.
I remember one brilliant January morning, outside the snow was glistening as the sun flooded through the window, conspiring with the heat radiating from my woodstove to create the ‘perfect room temperature.’ The world stood still. Everything was perfect and peaceful, and I was filled with gratitude. That morning I picked up my guitar and wrote another song:
“The dust is dancing in the sunlight,
Kissing my face makes my world look so bright,
And all that I hear is the crackling fire,
And this song in my ear.”
~This song in my ear
Carmen Mutschele has since traded the crackling of the wood fire for urban comforts; however, she holds a special place in her heart for winter storms accompanied by power outages out in the country. Carmen dedicates this story to everyone who finds the adversities of the cold season challenging, and especially to those who struggle and almost run out of breath on the long dive into darkness.