Feel the Chill with Charles Kingsley’s Ode To The Northeast Wind

snowy sprucesIt is rare to encounter verse that places winter storms in a positive context, isn’t it?

Around 1900, the international writer Lafcadio Hearn gave lectures on English literature and poetry at the University of Tokyo, and I can think of no better introduction to this author and poem than the one he gave. Read more

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

French Cantatas for Winter Winds: Discover Boismortier’s Four Seasons

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The North Wind attempts to blow the traveler's cloak off him. Illustration by Milo Winter from The Aesop for Children (1919).
The North Wind attempts to blow the traveler’s cloak off him. Illustration by Milo Winter from The Aesop for Children (1919).

People frequently declare our time the Social Era. You’ve heard that term before, haven’t you? We won’t find naming winter storms among Nilofer Merchant’s new Rules for the Social Era, but lately our human tendency to personify everything inanimate has been applied in yet another way.

We’re far from the only culture with this tendency to look at the world around us and create characters. Every culture has! If we look back in time, the wind and weather provide good examples. (Pssst! Would you like to add a word to your vocabulary? There’s a term for making characters of wind and weather. Doing this is called physitheism.)

I hope that crazy word didn’t blow you away! It is pretty abstract, and might leave you groping for examples. So what were some of these breezy, gusty epithets, and how far back in history do they go? Read more

Consider the Value of Reading Wind Patterns in Snowfall

an untitled winter landscape painting by Jose Salis Camino
Untitled Winter Landscape (no date)
by José Salís Camino (1863-1927)

If you live where it snows and you’re not a kid, dealing with snow is mostly a chore–one some residents dread so much they resolve to retire in a place where they will never see snow again!

The Japanese have a saying karo tosen, or “Summer heater, winter fan.” The point is that Read more