Winter's coming...are you and your homestead ready for the months ahead? Farmwife Catherine S. Pond shares 10 ways you can prepare for the colder months and "savor your rural life like a safe blanket." Cheers to the cozy joys of wintertime in the country!
Growing up in New England, where the sun was lower in the sky and further north than in the southern states where we now live, the days were noticeably shorter by the end of August. Despite the initial excitement and back to school, or college, there was a certain pall of melancholy that descended.
Before we moved to my grandparents’ New Hampshire farm year round, we spent two weeks there each August. We’d drive the way, and back, the 620 miles from Akron, Ohio, savoring the last days of summer before our return to school.
My father was an amateur astronomer and liked to stargaze with me at the farm: he’d point out the Milky Way over our heads as it stretched from horizon to horizon, and the Big Dipper as it began its slow pour over the woodchuck pasture. [Usually every geographical spot is named on a working farm: on a 100 acre piece, how would you easily tell others where you are?]
There were few visible stars with the neighborhood lights in suburban Akron, and star-gazing at the farm was an end of summer rite that lingered until we returned to the farm again. Now I watch as Ursa Major turns its way down over our knob, which shelters our Kentucky farm to the north—and, like the Joe Pye weed losing its midsummer mauled, its always a sure sign of autumn.
“Alexandra drew her shawl closer about her and stood leaning against the frame of the mill, looking at the stars which glittered so keenly through the frosty autumn air. She always loved to watch them, to think of their vastness and distance, and of their ordered march. It fortified her to reflect upon the great operations of nature, and when she thought of the law that lay behind them, she felt a sense of personal security. That night she had a new consciousness of the country, felt almost a new relation to it.
-”Willa Cather, O Pioneers!
I used to get acute seasonal affective disorder living in New England in the winter but here in Kentucky, where the sun is higher in the sky and summers can be, well, actual summer, I welcomed the lower light of autumn and the shorter days, and an excuse to be indoors, too. I now embrace the “November in my soul,” that Ishmael describes in the opening lines of Melville’s Moby Dick. Rather than take to a ship and the sea, I happily go more inward and savor my rural life like a safe blanket.
There are many ways to welcome the winter months ahead and here are some of my favorites:
1. Wood warms you three times: when you cut it, when you stack it, and when you burn it.
We had a recent “wood day” at our farm, where my husband and some of the crew at his off-farm job put up a winter’s supply of cordwood for a friend in need. [But to that list I would argue “four times” with the added measure of doing something good for someone else.]
Woodpile Zen is a special thing and there are few more rewarding tasks in the autumn than bringing wood in for the winter—well, aside from filling the shelves with home-canned goods. Growing up on my grandparents’ farm, we organized a “Wood Weekend” each October when I brought many of my city friends home for the occasion. For two days we cut, split, and stacked row upon row in the barn annex for winter. Lots of good food, hayrides and bonfires, crisp air, and the pageant of leaves — some of the best parts of myself still linger in a New Hampshire autumn.
2. Enjoy the gathering and the hunkering in time.
Fall is when we, like squirrels, like to gather provisions for our larder or finish the last bit of our food preservation, and winterize our property. With the waning days and light, we turn more inward in our activities and in our minds. This is a necessary pause.
3. Make a point to get outside and walk...
...even if just to the mailbox and back. The sun and fresh air is invigorating, especially in flu and cold season. If it is too dark to walk in the mornings or evenings, try to walk at lunch time, if you are able to work or be at home, or take a longer walk around your property on the weekends.
4. Practice the art of hygge.
Reflecting back, I realize that my entire New England upbringing was immersed in the concept of hygge, especially in the fall and winter months. Hygge is a warm and cozy bath for the senses: wool socks, tasty soups and chowders, comfortable clothes, sweater weather, crackling fires, large mugs of tea or cocoa. These are things to celebrate in the fall.
5. Bake, can, and freeze things for the months ahead.
Favorite fall things I like to do are to make and can applesauce, for Thanksgiving and beyond, and to bake things or make casseroles for the freezer. I like to spend Sundays doing this, especially, when the day seems to stretch into the longest, most lovely day of the week.
6. Take up a hand craft.
My husband and I recently learned that we have two grandchildren on the way next spring and I realized it has been many years since I’ve knit regularly. I plan to do just that on fall and winter evenings ahead: and it will keep me from tapping on my computer or cell phone when I probably shouldn’t be.
7. Write notes and letters.
This is a lost art that I’m determined to bring back into my life, starting with Christmas cards which I haven’t sent in several years. Besides, aren’t we all tired of texting and Zoom calls? Writing a letter is a more considered, slower way of communication that I know I miss. And consider the joy you might bring when your recipient’s mailbox is opened somewhere across the country, or world!
8. Read more.
Tackle a favorite genre or that pile of books next to your bed. Better yet, grab a mug of tea, some cookies, start a fire in the fireplace or woodstove, and tuck right in. If you live on a farm, you’ve earned it!
9. Turn the Light On.
It’s ok to turn an extra light or two on, preferably the inviting table lamp kind. But bring out the candles, too, no matter how your husband might protest. As a winter treat, I just bought battery-operated window candles on timers that I’ll set to come on at dusk until midnight. Then they’ll just live there until the spring, or the batteries go out — whichever comes first!
Above all, remember that in order to have a glorious spring, we must first retreat like Persephone into the underworld. But there is always light in the darkness, too.
My parents died in October, fifteen years apart, but I haven’t let that affect my love for the month or the season. Since two of our children’s “Covid weddings” in October 2020, now we have two wedding anniversaries to celebrate each year, and I’ve always loved my almost-Halloween birthday. As I write this, on October 22, 2021, I realize it is the 121st birthday of my dear grandmother, mentioned above. With our shared country lives we have had a kind of symbiosis across time and generations — a strong connection formed across the miles in my childhood.
The months and seasons don’t need to be defined by loss, but by beginnings and traditions new and old, with much growth and life and celebration, or the promise of it to come. And there is no better place to honor and celebrate each season than in the country. And if you want to hunker in and cocoon, there is no better excuse, or time!