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“Do you like snow?” Margaret asked.

I glanced outside through the wall of windows by the Meijer checkout and observed that the snow had not yet broken its 48-hour binge. At least it had slowed. Currently, it looked like someone had ripped open a down pillow. Each feathery large flake leisurely drifted to the ground.

“I don’t mind it,” I replied. “I mean, I don’t LOVE it, but there are worse things about Michigan weather I dislike, for example the winter cloudiness and lack of daylight. I am not a skier or snowshoer or anything, nor do I go out of my way to be out in it, but I like the excuse snow gives me to hunker down and stay inside.”

Margaret the cashier nodded her approval as she scanned the last of my groceries. “I think it’s pretty. I don’t understand why people get so upset by it. If you live in Michigan, you have to make your peace with the snow.”

My response to the cashier’s question took me by surprise. Not too long ago, I would have had a very different response to that question. Pre-COVID Beth hated winter, and especially the snow, like a toddler hates having her face washed. Snow made me cancel my appointments and pastoral visits, when driving became too arduous.

“School snow days” added another plate to spin when I would have to figure out childcare in the already tenuously organized packed day of single parenthood. Snow shoveling was a major inconvenience when I needed to be somewhere at a specific time. And then there’s the winter darkness. By late January the lack of sunshine would take its toll on my mental health. Darkness begot depression which begat an inability to get out of bed which begat a call to my doctor for an uptick in my Wellbutrin prescription.

My saving winter grace was running, ironically. Something about bundling up and strapping on my Yaktrax ice cleats, even when the morning was still dark and the temperature below freezing, made me feel like I had a measure of control over the winter. I could convince myself, if only for a few minutes, that winter is not the boss of me. “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world!” was my Walt Whitman/Dead Poets Society declaration as I defiantly whipped open the front door to attack the icy sidewalks of Holland, Michigan.

My winter running strategy got shin splints in 2019. I was walking to church on an icy day and slipped, injuring my back to the point of barely being able to stand for months. There were three rounds of physical therapy, injections at a pain clinic, and even conversations about possible surgery. My yawp became a yawn. Have I mentioned my hatred of winter?

Not long after my injury came COVID 19. I, like the rest of you, exchanged conference table meetings for tic tac toe organized faces on computer screens; restaurant gatherings for sourdough starters. Church services felt as cold as February. Empty pews. No hands to pass peace too. No Johnson & Johnson scented baby heads to baptize with water. Even fervently singing hymns aloud morphed into weapons instead of worship. Spiritual warfare indeed.

To this day, I don’t know how life paradoxically became less busy, yet so much more exhausting. At least once a week, I would say to someone “How is it, I am only working at 2/3 capacity, yet I am constantly on the verge of burning out?” The old rhythms of work and life and play and worship no longer danced together. It was as if our entire world slipped on the ice but there were no physical therapists to teach us how to become strong again.

The past two and half years have been a journey in relearning self-care. The things that fed me before – meals with friends, running on ice, live theatre, traveling to new cities — had all melted away.

Even now, with some of the old life returned, my stamina still lags. I am back to my pastoral counseling and visits, which I love, but I have been exhausted by it. This new life needs new nourishment. I binge TV more. I read less. I eat too much. None of these coping skills are best long term. But what I have learned is to be with myself more; to be still more.

I even notice the world more. The past two and a half years I observed that there are some robins who live in Michigan year-round, not just the warmer months. I discovered a bunny who has lived in my backyard these past couple of years – I see her, unbothered by the snow, watching the world quietly by the side of our fence. Even now, her prints adorn our snowy lawn, like little snow angels. I find myself wondering about her sometimes, even when I am away. The Christmas cactus I keep on my kitchen windowsill gave us four flowers this November, up from none the year before. I took time, trying out different windowsills the past several seasons, to see which one was most nurturing.

Then, last week, the gift of two snowstorms. I cancelled a couple of meetings and appointments. I answered emails in fuzzy slippers. I attended a ZOOM consistory meeting, drinking tea in my favorite mug and wearing pajama pants with a professional top. I put my ear pods in and listened to my favorite poetry podcast while shoveling snow in those same pajama pants. I looked for my bunny friend. Most importantly, I sat quietly on the living room sofa and watched the snow out the window, giving thanks to God for health, for family, for meaningful work, for tea, and yes, even for the snow.

Thank you for asking, Margaret. I have made my peace with the snow.

Beth Carroll

Beth Carroll is pastor of discipleship at Hope Church in Holland, Michigan.

22 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    And the juncos come too.

    • Beth Carroll says:

      how cool! Pre-COVID, the parks department in my county offer a “donuts and birds” event. You show up to a park in the winter and learn about a bid of the day, while drinking coffee and eating donuts. Because its winter, its easier to see the specific bird because of the lack of leaves and fewer bird species present in winter. I have always wanted to go! (and not just for the donuts). I hope they bring it back.

      • Daniel Meeter says:

        I resonated with your essay because, as a Long-Islander, who was used to winter sunshine, I found the West Michigan dark and cloudy winters very depressing, both at college and then living there as a pastor. The best relief was the birds, and thus bird-feeders, which in winter have a different clientele than bird-feeders in the summer. Cardinals above the snow (cardinals, like most seed-eaters, do not fly south)! Juncos, foraging on the ground beneath the feeders have already flown south for winter in Michigan from summer residence much further north. Woodpeckers of various sorts. Titmice, Finches in their drab winter-coats. Etc. Birds, to me, are one of the most wonderful gifts of God to the world, and they help sustain me during the winter that I find hard to enjoy.

  • Kathy Van Rees says:

    Thank you, Beth.

  • Nancy VandenBerg says:

    Just what I needed to be reminded of! Thank you, Beth.

  • Jeff Carpenter says:

    My parents, both native Michiganders (Mom still going at 96 yrs), for a time in their retirement years became Snowbirds, spending winter months in Ocalla, Florida. Dad liked to go to the coast for seafood, to fish in the surf or inland lakes, and to attend Tigers spring training in Lakeland; Mom liked the warm weather for her arthritis’ sake, and just to be with Dad. However—after some years, they stopped going to Florida. They hated the trip, coming and going, hauling their 5th-wheel trailer; after awhile they didn’t care much for their FL neighbors—mostly fellow seniors :?)– but mostly because they decided that THEY INDEED MISSED WINTER IN MICHIGAN. In their mid/late 70s they were still sledding with grandkids and XC-skiing with each other. Dad took as much pride in his expert snowblowing as he did in his lawnmowing and gardening.; he enjoyed a fireplace, and Mom liked her wool sweaters and warm kitchen. There’s a beauty in all 4 seasons, the comings and goings between as well as the heart of each. Why ignore or try to avoid any of it? Perhaps I’m spoiled by living in the Midwest . . . :?)

    • Beth Carroll says:

      WOW! Your parents are hardy people!! That is fantastic that they embrace it as they do. Perhaps one day I will try cross country skiing. There are a couple of parks in my area that let you rent them.

    • Henry Baron says:

      With such good parent models, you surely will do likewise, Jeff!

  • Carl Fictorie says:

    Our workaholic world does not allow us to live in harmony with the seasons. I would like snow if I knew that I would get to see the blanket of white upon waking, unperturbed by human action, and perhaps have the time later in the morning to take a walk and take it all in. Instead, I have to get up an hour earlier (when my body clock is screaming to stay in bed longer) and get my driveway shoveled, hoping that the drift the city plow dumped into the end of my driveway isn’t too hard packed. That way, we can get to work on time because it’s far too important for businesses to open their doors. Snow, like so many natural things, has become a problem to be controlled and managed rather than a gift to be savored and enjoyed.

    • Beth Carroll says:

      Carl, so true!!!! I have often thought similarly. I wish our society flexed the same way our weather patterns do. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • EMILY STYLE says:

    A poetic read. So many details—like snowflakes falling. Yes to attention to seasons, inner & outer. Thanks for sharing on the page.

  • Fred Mueller says:

    Thanks for making me recall my four delightful winters at Hope (class of ’72). I am from the east and was enchanted by those frosty months. Some special memories include gently falling tiny flakes that went on day after day. The year there was so much snow they hauled it and put it on Hope’s empty lot by the student center. We slid down those on dining hall trays into the month of May. Walking out on Lake Michigan on the ice (profoundly stupid). Chains of students holding on to car bumpers and each other racing down the snow packed streets (not much smarter). Riding motor bikes with feet on the ground like skis. Undried hair freezing on the walk to chapel. The winters were magic.

    • Beth Carroll says:

      Thanks for commenting, Fred! When I was a Hope student (class of ’95) students did the same with the trays. Students would sneak them out of the dining hall. LOL

  • Cheryl L Scherr says:

    I get more depressed in the winter as well. I’m already taking the max dosage on Wellbutrin so that’s out. I use an all spectrum light for about 30 minutes a day in December and January gradually decreasing the time in February and March. It really works. I have had it for awhile so I don’t remember where I got it. You can probably Google it. Also, check with your doctor. They can sometimes get you a deal

  • rev. cindi veldheer says:

    Beth! this is a cozy read! and yes to the reality that I’m not reading as much, and watching TV more… sheesh.
    thank you!

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