This time of year in our society many people (ok, most) are focussed on the holiday season of peace, joy and gift giving. It is not a time when people look to spend time outdoors. In the northern hemisphere it is either too cold, too wet or too dark to do much at all outdoors.
But it is important to remain connected to the cycles of the Earth and seasons year round. As the season darkens and the natural world goes to sleep, we, too, turn inward and slow down.
The solstice, the longest night of the year, and a turning point for the return of the sun, is a time of inner reflection, but should also be a time to connect with the natural world.
Many of our seasonal traditions and images stem from natural winter elements, such as holly, pine boughs, pinecones, mistletoe and evergreen trees.
Here are some suggestions for connecting with nature in the darkest days of winter:
- Take an evening walk in the dark (with the shortened daylight hours this can be quite early in the evening) with a flashlight. Find a quiet spot somewhere quiet (preferably in nature) and sit down. Turn off the flashlight and look up at the sky. Take in your sensory experience; what do you see, what do you hear, what do you smell? Observe the night sky if it is a clear night. Do you see any constellations? Go Explore Nature has some great backyard astronomy tips and ideas.
- Go on a winter scavenger hunt. Brainstorm as many things you would like to notice on your walk and make a list. Pay attention to how seemingly "dead" or dormant plants show signs of life.
- Similarly, go on a winter photo walk. You can use the scavenger hunt list, or just take photos of what you notice. Try changing your perspective for this; get down low on the ground and notice what you see, or climb up higher (on a bridge, in a tree, or from a window).
- If you have access to a fire pit, have a winter fire outdoors. Bundle up. Then come home and enjoy a cup of hot tea or hot chocolate.
- In the evening, turn off all the lights in a room, then light a candle. Observe the flame, watch it dance and notice the amount of light it radiates. Then light another candle and observe the amount of light in the room. Think about people of the past, and in places with no consistent electricity and how their lives change in the winter with reduced light in the evening. Think about their daily rhythms.
- Keep a record, using your own observations, of the sunset and sunrise hours. Notice the change of times. Compare to published information about the sunset and sunrise.
- Become observant of the subtle shades of light and colour of the winter sky. Keep a daily record on a calendar grid by shading the day's square in the colour of the sky. Or for the more crafty people, crochet or knit a row in the colour of the day's sky. At the end of the season you will have a beautiful winter scarf.
- Count down the days to the longest night of the year. I have used a homemade solstice advent calendar in the past and would like to try making another one using salt dough this year.
- On the longest night of the year, try welcoming back the sun with a celebration. Light candles, think about plans for the coming year and how you would like to spend time in nature.