The cold has crept in, frosting the ground with its icy fingers as it moves along the morning trails left by the mist. Trees, stripped of their leaves, now stand with their branches bare, stabbing into the sky in all directions. Darkness has won over light. We spend much of our time now in the crepuscular hours, filled with gray, dusky light. We scuttle about, avoiding the damp as much as we can, shaking the wet from our hair and brows, as we dream of cozy, warm places to rest and recharge.
December is here. It is no accident that we look to celebrate light and lightheartedness as the days grow darker and colder. We create colorful good cheer in our homes and in our demeanors, hoping, perhaps, to cancel out the dreaded shadows we know that winter will bring. She’s just around the corner, waiting in the wings, after all.
Ironically, the end of December will turn the tide on the receding light and day by day we will begin to see the mornings and afternoons lengthen as darkness moves away. The landscape will remain frozen and bare for months, though, and we must learn to embrace the bare essentials of winter if we are to make it through in good spirits and good health.
Nature knows when it’s time to slow down, shut down and take a breather. Trees that look forlorn and stark against a metal colored sky are far from dead or dying. They are slowed down to a pace of life where they can face the constantly changing and unpredictable elements. They are settled deep within, resting, rejuvenating. Cold winds, snow, sleet and ice may swirl around them, beat on them, scream through their branches and through it all, most will simply stand, accepting what is happening. They have no choice, being rooted in the ground. They cannot seek shelter or run away to escape. They can only stay put, bearing whatever may come. Some will bend and some will even break. Branches will fall and scatter, bark will be ripped off, torn by animals and birds looking for food. And still, they will remain.
The birds and animals that winter here on the Cape are hardy souls. They must withstand temperatures that rise and fall many degrees in a matter of hours. They seek shelter in the worst of weather but for most, survival depends on their ability to move about to find food, water and a roosting place to make it through the night. They must withstand cold, wet, and wind. Their homes may freeze, their food may disappear and still they must persevere or perish.
It is in winter when we see what living with the bare essentials is really like. It is much easier to survive in lush, fruitful summer. Winter is when the real tests begin.
We humans have done everything we can imagine to escape this way of living. We have built elaborate homes and drive vehicles that not only carry us from one place to another but do so with built-in heat, communication and even navigation.
We no longer have to hunt and garden. We can buy months’ worth of food with one stop at a grocery store. Foods from all over the world are available every day and we can even pay other people to cook it for us.
We not only have access to warm clothing and footwear that will also keep us dry, but we can easily have more than one outfit and can change daily if we so desire. We are not dependent on one set of feathers or one coat of fur to get us through the winter months.
In many ways, we have lost touch with the idea of the bare essentials, the bare necessities of life. Water, food and shelter. Everything else is extra. There’s a lot we humans take for granted in general. We Americans take even more for granted. What if, for one week, you had to wear the same clothes, turned off the heat, electricity and running water, couldn’t drive or use a phone or computer, and cooked only what you gathered or hunted? What if you had only one bowl, one spoon, one cup? Could you do it? Many people still do, all over the world. Even here on Cape Cod.
As December races across our calendar, step outside and be with nature for a bit. Imagine being a chickadee or a jay, a gull or a hawk. What would life be like as a mouse, a squirrel, a coyote? They may get by with only the bare essentials, but in many ways, they may be better equipped for life than most of us. They know how to make do with what they have, something we might consider on the long, cold nights ahead.