Here in the northern hinterlands October is the traditional time to dig into basements, attics and the deep recesses of our closets in order to unearth our survival gear for the cold months. Gloves, hats, coats and boots must be tried on, and lists made for new gear. It’s time to check the car tires and make sure there’s plenty of tread left on them for the icy roads that will be coming. We ought to be moving swiftly toward winter snows. I remember a number of icy Halloween trick or treats where kids had to be convinced to wear warmer costumes or the dreaded “coat-over-costume”.
I also remember one unseasonably warm January when the kids were little. In the dark winter evening I was letting them play on the swing-set in the backyard with no shoes or coat. They loved it. I remember a few years ago looking at the data for Michigan agriculture, specifically for flowering fruit trees. It was cherries or apples. I can’t remember which. However, the trend was clear. Each year they flowered a little earlier. Year after year the weeks are being shaved off and the tide of summer is rising into spring. Winter is being nipped and herded northward. The bloom data doesn’t lie.
About ten years ago it occurred to me that I may see the end of winter in Michigan. I may live long enough to not need a snow shovel. My grandchildren (If I have any) might not know the joy of snowballs fights and the squealing feeling of ice cold water dripping down the back of their neck while they gather up snow for the next barrage. Instead of dreading the back breaking labor of clearing my sidewalk, I looked forward to the feeling of the brisk air and the satisfying sensation of using my body to do a simple task.
Climate change shut me up about bad roads, snow days, and heating bills, because I was looking the loss of winter in the eye.
In every house I’ve ever lived in I was able to hear when the winter winds came. There’s always some quirky spot where the sound wuthers, just like in the book Wuthering Heights. I used to listen for that sound with a little dread in my soul. But now it’s anticipation for the blessings that winter brings.
When I hear that sound I point it out to my children. We make sure to set some whiskey or vodka to welcome Old Woman Winter whom we know by so many names. Mother Hulda is an excellent fairy tale to read to your children at this time of year, or go learn about Perchta and the Cailleach. Pray to Skadi if she calls to you, but don’t pray for gentleness. Here is a prayer I wrote to Her. Feel free to use it or change it as you wish.
A Prayer to the Winter Goddess
Mother Winter, may I roam with you?
Moving through the winter grasses, blackened branches against a twilight sky so blue it seeps into my soul like a healing balm. Let us leap like the fleeting deer through the deep banks of snow, leaving a wake of glitter more wholesome than any made by man.
Mother Winter may I walk with you?
The snow is falling. Each moment crafted by forces more sacred than I can say, each flake echoing the shape of summer’s sweet honeycomb. The low solstice sun leaves long trails through the trees and each footprint left behind is a reminder of our lives.
Mother Winter may I talk with you?
Like the tide going out each year, you are farther away. I see your slow receding foot steps and aged pace. Always you knew how to be the Crone but now you are as fragile as a snowflake and the tremors in your hands are like rotten ice in spring. Share your wisdom with me if you would, secrets we may forget or never know.
Mother Winter may I thank you?
For your gifts are sharp and kind. I dream of the peace of the woods and the silent song of the falling snow. We have been unwise and now we reap the price. I seek now the strength to walk more lightly, to fight with the sharpness of the northern wind and to accept your passing with the stillness that comes after the snowstorm.
After the Prayer
It is important to live in gratitude and reciprocity in our lives. I’ve read the works of Joanna Macy and Derrick Jensen, the poetry of Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry. It’s not easy to sit with the kinds of losses we are looking at, but it is crucial for us all to be able to do so with honesty and kindness.
Consider giving an offering in whatever way seems best to you, incense, whiskey, blood, effort, or words can work. Offerings take many shapes. At the end, remember that the only thing you can truly offer is your time and effort. Everything else is only a reshaping of the gifts the spirits and gods give us.
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