On Welcoming Winter

Wild is the music of the autumnal winds amongst the faded woods.
— William Wordsworth

In the northern hemisphere, the dawn’s quiet glow arrives later and later, and the cool of night greets us earlier and earlier. As the calendar year draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on the liminal space between summer and winter, between light and dark.

Though things may have changed, where I was raised the harvest of autumn time was not culturally celebrated. The autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere occurs in mid-March, and I believe autumn is considered to officially start on March 1st each year in Australia. My birthday falls in April, an autumn baby, and though my birthday was generally a somber time for me as a child, I looked forward to the transition of the years, the transition of the seasons. I adored the deciduous trees, whose leaves would turn into hues of rich reds and golds, and then float and fall into beautiful mosaics on the cooling earth, blanketing the ground in preparation for the frosty mornings to follow. I loved the bare branches that remained, living skeletons lifting towards the sky, warmed only by the dimming light, welcoming the winter.

I never truly understood why so many chose this as their favorite season until I moved to Colorado. Summer at altitude is hot and dry, and this year was no exception. We live here at around 5,280 ft (about 1.6km) wedged between the mountains and the plains in an alpine desert. Just as I felt like I could combust under the searing light and dry heat, the temperature started to shift. The evenings started to cool down, soothing the heat of the days. One morning, after a particularly cool night, I noticed a single yellowing leaf on a tree in my neighbor’s yard. An emissary from the winter to come, a tiny saffron flag signaling the end of the harvest season, calling to us to give thanks for the bounty of summer and leading the way into one of nature’s most glorious and resplendent celebrations: the chorus of autumn colors. Here in Colorado, the mountains alight in flame, and the leaves like shimmering coins whispering of the arrival of the snow, then fall, leaving great swathes of the mountains home to bare trunks and gray shadows, marked silently between the evergreen spruce and pine.

As I expand my practice and lean deeply into the transition from summer to winter, I can’t help but wonder about the millions, perhaps billions, of autumns that have taken place before this one. The millions of times the leaves have fallen, heralding the darkening of the days, and the frosts that have followed. Shamanic practice works outside of linear time, so practitioners may witness extraordinary passages through time and space in the blink of an eye. Using only the rattle or drum as my door, I enter into a state similar to a waking dream, and I explore, accompanied by my helping spirits.

As I journey through the countless passages of the seasons, I feel an intensely profound sense of gratitude and connection to our planet home, its cycles, and its myriad inhabitants. I also feel its sense of place in the multiverse, a tiny, blue, life-giving jewel, to which I offer my most abiding respect and honor. What an extraordinary and precious gift life is. All life. And, from a shamanic point of view, that means the life of the water and the stones, the trees and their leaves, the air, the stars, and the humans. All of it. I also feel such deep gratitude for all of the ancestors. We are the product of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution and by taking time to remember our benevolent ancestors, perhaps it can provide even greater meaning, and presence, to the time we are given to walk the earth. My maternal grandmother passed this summer, and I can think of no better time to honor her recently departed spirit (and her love of plants and trees) than during this season.

Many cultures celebrate the darkening time between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice, the transitional space where it is often believed that the veils are lifted between the worlds, giving us more direct access to our ancestry, and the spirit realms. It is a time to celebrate the deceased, the end of summer, and the time when the earth takes pause and sleeps, before its reawakening in the spring. It is also a time to relinquish the past, mend old wounds, and to look to our guides for support as we move towards the cold. As the dark nights stretch out their arms to wrap us in their contemplative embrace, I offer my gratitude and invite you to join me in taking a moment to pause in grace.

With heartfelt thanksgiving for the magnificence of all life, for the benevolence of the ancestors, for a grandmother’s love, for the joys of hot tea, and for the magnanimous guidance of the helping spirits, I gratefully welcome winter forward.

With love and appreciation,
Heather