Yesterday was Imbolc, the day halfway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, and officially the start of Spring on more seasonal, agrarian calendars, particularly those of my ancestors in the British Isles. In those more moderate climes, the snow drops are apt to be showing themselves and Imbolc brings with it a real promise of the unfurling once again of the fertile green cloak across the land. But, of course, in our Vermont climate, we are deeply ensconced in Winter still, and this day offers more of a symbolic glimpse towards the brightening and warming of these hills.
It’s been frigid here, 60 degrees below freezing within the past two weeks and then thawing and raining shortly after, only to freeze once again. And all the while it’s been mostly gray, clouding the spirits of most and obscuring the feeling of any sort of stirring or quickening of sap, seedling or inner inspiration, all of which are promised by Imbolc and its patron goddess, Brigid.
So, when I woke today to a blue sky and temperatures just at freezing, it seemed that perhaps Spring might come after all–that the thick, slow ice flows of Winter might dislodge, that the light of the sun might be truly growing and kindling a small flame in the heart of the world.
As I padded downstairs, I was greeted immediately by our resident grouse outside my window, all puffed up to keep herself warm as she foraged for her daily ration of tree buds. I haven’t seen her in a couple of months, since the hard freeze, and I wondered where she’d dug her snow tunnel for safety and warmth. For a bit, she crouched under the hemlock outside the window and watched me, while I watched her, and then she scurried off. I decided she was giving me the “hard eye”–as my sweetie describes the look we give the cats when they’re misbehaving–admonishing me to get myself outside and into the woods.
So, I did. I found, of course, that there is much afoot, even under cover of snow and ice. I’m always in need of reminding that the cold and slow times are important preparation for the productivity and maturation of the Fire season. But, perhaps even more, I need a reminder that the simplicity and pared down nature of Winter makes space for a depth of reflection and quality of work that can’t be achieved at any other time. The modest, purposeful movements of the animals in search of food reminds me that only so much can be done in short days and only that which is necessary.
Simple realizations and small practices, like the tiny swollen tree buds, are the potent beginnings of the glories of Summer’s canopy, yes. But condensed inner and outer movements–such as dreaming and intention-setting, long naps and fire-tending–also hold their own value, solid ballast for the frenzied expansion and manifestation to come.
Here are a few of the images I collected today to remind myself of the need for “tending the buds”, treasuring the simple, the slow, the essential–my gifts from Winter.