Even though the spring equinox was a few days ago, I’ve been thinking since…well, since the new year about writing a post on hiking, and outdoor experience, as a means of connecting with the Wheel of the Year.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, the Wheel of the Year is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the idea of a continuous passage of time, that isn’t marked by an ending or a beginning, as on a calendar, but by the transitioning of one phase of life to the next, over and over again. Birth, life, death, dormancy, over and over again.
I lean heavily on this belief in the winter. I’ve written a lot about the outdoors in the winter. Both learning to embrace the cold and making myself get outside even when I don’t want to, and in finding comfort in the silence of the winter. But as much as winter is a time of sleep and reflection, of tending to roots while we allow everything above the surface a chance to rest, spring is new life. It’s an awakening.
I am particularly aligned with the wheel of the year so far in 2019. Over the winter, my mother was hospitalized; we found out her cancer had spread to her brain, and her prognosis was dramatically worse than it had been before. In the dark of winter, we turned inward. We had no choice. We hibernated. That I injured my knee just after the solstice only meant we stayed in even more. I couldn’t hike, or even sit comfortably outdoors. I wanted to soak up as much time as we could with my mom. And in the final weeks of January, I barely poked my head outside save for trips to the grocery store, as we held her hand and watched her die.
Imbolc marks the beginning of February. It’s when we start to see some of the first signs of awakening, at least in the south. Buds are appearing on trees. Daffodils brave the bitter winds. It is a juxtaposition of life and death; early greens blinking into the low sun, curling in on themselves against the frost and snow that will linger for weeks to months. I woke up the morning of February 2nd this year, made coffee, and called an old colleague to talk business. My husband and I went out for lunch together, before he was supposed to head back home while the kids and I stayed at my mom’s.
After that lunch, I sat with my aunt and sister, and we held my mom’s hands while she took her last breaths.
What has followed, has been like moving in slow motion. I had knee surgery a few days after my mom’s death. February is a blur of laying on the couch with my leg on a stack of pillows, of the first trip back to my mom’s house and feeling the emptiness of her not being there to meet us. Of limping across the house, and endless endless rain, flooding fields and washing out roadways across the state. March has been tears. Breaking down and sobbing in the kitchen the day of the time change because my mom always loved getting that extra hour of light at the end of the day. Looking at my yard in anger because my mom was supposed to help me with my landscaping in our new house, and now she can’t, and I can’t even call her to ask her for advice.
And March is my first hike post-op. It’s getting back outside, and breathing it in. The rot, of leaves that spent a winter under so much rain, and the life. “Stinky pear trees” as I affectionally call the Bradford Pears, because I think they smell like a locker room but I love them just the same because they herald spring. The bright yellow daffodils. The fields of purple nettles in everyone’s yards, beckoning the bees. Returning to a favorite trail, and seeing green, for the first time in months.
I have spoken to a few friends down here, people I met in the fall and then didn’t see much of during my period of hibernation. I’ve glossed over my winter–it’s heavy to say you lost your mother and had surgery in the same week. But I always end it with–we are in a new season now. Figuratively and literally.
As the days now grow longer than the nights, and the leaves return to the trees, so do we return to the outdoors. Where my greatest healing has always been. Where I look everywhere and see reminders of life, and joy, and that the year is a wheel that will continue to turn, and that we can’t have this period of new growth without the period of death and dormancy that precedes it.
I look forward to a season of life. Of dancing, joyful on the trail with my children, as we emerge, and return to that place in nature that gives us hope.