Gray Days: Finding Joy at Winter’s End

A sheet of broken ice on the ocean. The sky is dark gray until the horizon, which is gold with sunset.

The most difficult time of year for me (emotionally) is revolving back to us again: late February and all of March, winter’s deathbed. The bitter cold or gloomy damp, the gray skies, dirty snow, and slush, the wet bark of leafless trees, and the fierce winds weigh tend to drag my mood down to the depths.

Why is this season harder for me even than the darkest time of year, December 31st? Holidays and “human” seasons (as opposed to the earth’s seasons) have a lot to do with it: November and December are made cozy and warm, exciting and communal by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. The difference is aesthetic, too: though it’s dark and cold, the fresh bright snow glitters in the sunlight and glows in the moonlight; jewel-toned lights glimmer on porches and trees; fireplaces within and cold without make indoors cozy and inviting. Somehow, actual blackness is easier to romanticize and enjoy than the ambivalent, soulless gray we often face at this time of year.

Certain memories of this time of year also depress me; in the not-so-long-ago school years, March especially was the month farthest away from the relief of vacations, when my motivation to study was running dry. In fourth grade, I read Astrid Lingren’s Pippi in the South Seas and almost cried as I dreamed of escaping my cold, boring, lonely winter days to a tropical paradise of friendship and adventure.

One of my joys as a writer and thinker is the transcendence of dreams. Even as the outside world is drab and colorless, the inside world, literal and figurative, is always under our control. I always turn on the inside lights on overcast days and sometimes light a scented candle, or bring our gas fireplace to roaring cheer. As to the inside world of my mind, I can transform that in two ways: imagination and recognition.

Imagination

I love the flight cliches for the imagination: our imagination jumps, soars, and has wings because it’s transcendent. We tap into the unknown and unseen and create new worlds that not only heal, comfort, and entertain, but when realized with the right amount of action, can manifest themselves in reality.

I can imagine away this winter-sickness by transforming it. For example:

  • Damp: The humidity that hangs heavy in the mornings isn’t the mold-nurturing misery it seems; it’s silver mist heavy with secrets, the fog of mystery and imagination, in which the phantoms of fear and longing take shape.
  • Ugliness: I can survive this time by recreating the loveliness of the other seasons, especially summer. My mind is an infinite landscape of green spaces: zephrys whispering through weeping willow branches, gardens lush with the curling petals of peony blossoms, sunrises like burning roses over rippling lakes. 
  • Boredom: The dull, unchanging days are the persevering striving in the middle of a quest, like Frodo and Sam’s wanderings in the Dead Marshes in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King, when the heroes are tempted to abandon their quest. 

“The mind is its own place, and in it self / Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n,” said John Milton in Paradise Lost. If our minds can become prisons, they can also become paradises.

Recognition

And yet . . .  “When the Lord puts us in certain circumstances He doesn’t mean for us to imagine them away,” says Marilla wisely in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Imagination is a wonderful escape, but those who accuse dreamers of being of no concrete help make a valid point. I can dream away the ugliness of this late winter season – or I can recognize the beauty underneath it, inside of it, to which my demand for clear skies and natural life blinds me.

  • Humidity: The gray, overcast skies and moist air are nurturing the earth and preparing it for the glories of spring and summer. Secret beauties are growing under the bark of trees and under the sparse grass and mud as the world softens and awakens from winter’s rest.
  • Boredom: Instead of bracing myself for dull months as if I’m helpless, I can use this time to treat myself with some old favorites. With some exceptions, the Bronte sisters seemed to write about landscapes that remind me of March – stormy skies and wild moors. I can read Jane Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Wuthering Heights, and Shirley in front of a cozy fire with a more empathetic enjoyment than I could on a hot summer day.
  • Ugliness: There are many gray days in this time of year, but the silver-pearl skies reflect serenity as well as gloom. Often a false thaw in February gives way to new, shining snow before winter’s end. The days of sun also have a strange, mystical radiance. In the woods that border the highways, afternoon’s gold illuminates the ash and russet in the bark of leafless trees and the gracefulness of the tangled bittersweet vines.

Even as winter sickens and dies, hope and beauty are eternal; imagination and recognition just open the window.

How can you use imagination and recognition to face this time of year?

One thought on “Gray Days: Finding Joy at Winter’s End

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s