This probably isn’t the first article you’ve seen on “living the season.” Blogs are teeming with summer bucket lists and fall recipes and new holiday traditions to try. As we all continue to navigate life in a pandemic, there seems to be a particular draw to this; while safety precautions are putting a new spin on many of our annual activities, looking to the seasonal changes around us is something we can do to make our lives a little more interesting.
So let me start by saying that I embrace this unapologetically. I love choosing weekend activities based on what’s going on with the weather. It has been endlessly inspiring to change up my cooking based on the produce that is locally available. I feel more in tune with the natural world as I notice the lengthening and shortening of light and all the countless changes in the plants and animals visible even in my little suburban life. As I’ve become more aware of the impact the world’s rotation has on our lives, there’s always something ahead to look forward to.
At the same time, though, I’m aware that “seasonal living” is very often just one more trend to monetize. I’m not claiming that you need to run out and buy an entire new wardrobe or replace all your pantry staples for every turn of season. I’m rather encouraging an attunement to what’s already happening with the seasons and an embracing of the natural rhythms around us.
As I’ve been doing this more and more, I’m noticing more of what I like to call micro-seasons. This started as I gained experience in birding; knowing what a red-winged blackbird sounds like now helps me notice that spring is arriving long before the temperature is ready to tip me off. And then I started noticing other indicators: when the chicory flowers start blooming along the roads I know we’re in late summer, which is decidedly different from early summer. There’s a part of fall that’s for apples and another part for leaves and another for pumpkins and a final part that’s strictly for hunkering down and getting cozy.
These aren’t strict delineations, of course; they overlap and flow into each other. But noticing these smaller seasonal shifts and all the intricacies of how they interact helps me appreciate the precious passing of time all the more.
The micro-season between Thanksgiving and Christmas — the one the world calls “the holidays” — can be tricky to celebrate. There’s a frantic cultural rush to make this time special, and it’s a time that we don’t really tend to notice what’s going on outside. That’s partly because the northern hemisphere’s days are shorter and colder and being outside is not quite as pleasant, but there’s still lots of life to enjoy outside if we can power through these obstacles. So here are a few suggestions for living this season in ways that are natural, non-commercial, and very nearly free.
This is the one place in this article that I will insist you spend money. If you don’t have it already, you must invest in some solid cold-weather gear. Specifics will vary depending on where you live, but when you have the right stuff handy, it makes going outside feel far less burdensome. My husband and I love to take our kids hiking on the weekends, and we’re only getting more stubborn about doing this year-round. I’ve scored secondhand coats and boots and snow pants at great discounts. Once we were well-equipped for any weather, we found ourselves far more likely to get outside even on cold weekends.
Find a patch
One way to really tune in with fine-level micro-seasonal changes is to keep observing the same place consistently. A lot of us crave newness and variety in our outdoor adventures, but I’ve found a lot of small, quiet joys in hiking the same trail over and over again this year. Your patch of nature doesn’t have to be big; even an apartment window or balcony can reveal a surprising amount of wildlife (and you can use a bird feeder to attract even more; use Cornell’s Project FeederWatch resources to get started). Try claiming some small place as your own. Become an expert in all the ways it changes. If you return to the same place over and over, you might be surprised by how much it has to newly offer each time.
Turn on your senses
Since the days are growing shorter, you might find yourself outside as the light wanes. This is a good time to tune into the natural world with all your senses. Sounds are clearer when the trees have shed their leaves, and smells cut through the cold. If you have a safe place to do so, you might even try going outside in the dark on purpose. Check in with all your senses and see what you notice.
Make homecomings pleasant
Even when we make a point of getting outside, winter means we will inevitably be in our spaces more. Coming in from the cold offers an opportunity to turn your home into a welcoming space. See if you can make one of your most-used areas a little more pleasant, either by de-cluttering or by adding something to make it more beautiful. For me, the specific goal for this season is to brainstorm solutions to our habit of dumping projects “in progress” on our dining room table so that we can sit down together to eat more easily through the winter.
The natural world gives us seasons, and diving into them fully can give us a sense of wonder and gratitude. The very-late-fall micro-season is one of stretching darkness to its maximum, one of life that’s dormant but still present. The parallels with the Church’s Advent season are strong. Perhaps our preparation for Christmas this year can incorporate experiences of the natural world and a quieter, simpler sense of what this season means.