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Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (New York: Riverhead, 2020), 245pp.Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (New York: Riverhead, 2020), 245pp.

I got this book from our local library based upon its deliciously counter-cultural title. In a world that is addicted to work, says Katherine May, we have forgotten how to rest. In a culture that makes us feel like failures if we're not world beaters, we ignore the unpleasant reality that life is difficult for everyone. May's hard times have included family sickness, job loss, a son who stopped attending school, and her own diagnosis with Asperger Syndrome.

The onset of winter, as a literal season and as a metaphor for life, can remind us of our "fallow times," of cold and darkness, and that those "down" times can be a transformative season of rest and retreat. For May, a secular mystic, this includes contemplating the poetry of John Donne and Sylvia Plath, and the winter themes in the Chronicles of Narnia; hunkering down at home to cook and bake; experiencing the thermal spas of Iceland and the polar lights of Norway when the sun never rises; winter swimming in the icy sea; joining the Druid myths surrounding her native Stonehenge; and in general paying attention to all the "liminal spaces" that winter offers if we embrace it rather than push it away.

And so she uses "winter" as a verb, and says that since we can't avoid it we should embrace it. That we consider the Danish idea of hygge — a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being (without feeling guilty for doing so), even while we acknowledge that all of our lives remain imperfect and unfinished. I think of it as some form of non-narcissistic self-care that isn't just a privilege of the rich. May's book reminded me of a family winter vacation in northern Finland long ago, and of a line of poetry from Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind": "O Wind, if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"

Dan Clendenin:

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