Industry and Indolence: Aesop’s Fable of The Ant and the Grasshopper

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black ants crawl amid dry leaves and twigs“How we spend our days,” wrote Annie Dillard “is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And there are few examples of how we spend our lives more appropriate to the season than Aesop’s fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper. On the surface merely a harsh lesson in thrift and planning, on a deeper level it becomes a koan which opens up the questions of what it means to live and what it means to truly be alive. Read more

In His Ballet Score The Snow Queen, Kenji Bunch Conjures an Icy Winter Landscape and a Frozen Psyche

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A stamp of Belarus showing author Hans Andersen and the Snow Queen
A stamp of Belarus showing author Hans Andersen and the Snow Queen

The best way to appreciate nature is undoubtedly to be in it and perhaps caring for it to the degree that it needs tending. But there’s little to do outside when the ground might be frozen and most plants are dormant–as they should be, giving us all the more opportunity to expand our appreciation of nature to other ways.

This is what the brilliant and often mystical Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke was doing in 1922 when he wrote a young admirer named Lisa Heise whose life had taken an awful turn. What he said to her is translated here by William Needham:

Tending my inner garden went splendidly this winter. Suddenly to be healed again and aware that the very ground of my being — my mind and spirit — was given time and space in which to go on growing; and there came from my heart a radiance I had not felt so strongly for a long time . . . You tell me how you are able to feel fully alive every moment of the day and that your inner life is brimming over; you write in the knowledge that what you have, if one looks at it squarely, outweighs and cancels all possible privations and losses that may later come along. It is precisely this that was borne in upon me more conclusively than ever before as I worked away during the long winter months . . .

In 1933, the 24-year-old French philosopher and political activist Simone Weil wrote to herself in her notebook about the need for

Discipline of the attention for manual work—no distraction or dreaming. But no obsession either. One must continually watch what one is doing, without being carried away by it. Another kind of discipline is needed for using the mind with support from the imagination. And yet a third kind for reflection. You scarcely possess any of the third kind. A complete being possesses all 3. You ought to be a complete being.

It’s these themes of accepting and enjoying what you have and cultivating the imagination and reflection that our society often prevents that make mid-winter an ideal time to consider an art form as ephemeral as the garden: dance.

Few subjects could be as timely, typical, and topical for this season as “The Snow Queen,” which is why you should furiously shovel, scrape, endure a mixture of sand and slush, walk gingerly on slick surfaces, and otherwise go out of your way to hear the inspired treatment by American composer Kenji Bunch. Read more

Take Inspiration From Nature Even Though It’s Cold: Hear Randall Tobin’s Wintertime Ballet The Snow Queen

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The Snow Queen sits on her star-spangled throne by Dugald Walker  (1914)
The Snow Queen sits on her star-spangled throne
by Dugald Walker (1914)

It all started with a rose.

The rose was a symbol.

It symbolized the connection between a boy and a girl.

And the reason she ended up in tears had little to do with the boy, and a lot more to do with the Snow Queen.

At one point, the girl would meet an enchantress who would comb her hair

. . . and in doing so, cast a spell that caused her to forget all about him.

The Enchantress and Her Garden by Dugald Walker (1914)
The Enchantress and Her Garden by Dugald Walker (1914)

The girl spent part of the summer in the enchantress’s beautiful garden, and she was very happy . . .

. . . until by chance she saw a rose . . .

. . . that brought all the memory back. Read more