Stay the Winter

Photograph by Anastasia Miseyko / Connected Archives


words by willow defebaugh

This season is often dominated by darkness and a feeling of lifelessness, but it is also a time to reflect, restore, and recharge.

“I am a book of snow, a spacious hand, an open meadow, a circle that waits, I belong to the earth and its winter.”

Pablo Neruda

I’m looking out a window at moss-covered ground, barely tinted white with the first frost of the season. All of the trees have lost their leaves, save for the evergreens that dot the forest now before me. There’s a cold front coming in, a snow storm to herald the coming months of lifelessness that lay ahead. And yet, it isn’t lifeless. A deer saunters by, staring into me with its gentle eyes. Squirrels skitter about, gathering what final sustenance they can before the weather turns. And I remind myself that I am here, too—preparing for my own winter.


In Greek mythology, the seasons were explained by the story of Persephone. Daughter to Demeter, she was a goddess of nature and vegetation. But she found herself bound to Hades, king of the underworld—either by love or a curse, depending on the telling. And so it was agreed that she would spend six months of the year above ground spreading the sunshine and fertility of spring and summer, and the rest of it in the dark below with her husband as queen of the underworld, leaving nature in our realm to wither for the autumn and winter.


If I’m being honest with you, I’m not in the mood I hoped to be in as I write my final newsletter of the year. Much like my furry friends outside my window, I have been scurrying about these past few weeks trying to get everything done before our annual hibernation period at Atmos: an issue well underway, exciting organizational changes, stories to plan, and yes, my last newsletter of the year. In other words, I’ve been stressed—and when I get stressed is when I slip back into old rhythms and patterns, ones I thought I’d left behind.


When I find myself dancing in past ways of thinking and being, it’s often a downward spiral; my disappointment at my own “lack of progress” compounds on itself, and I end up giving myself further to my ghosts. And in addition to the pressure to finish everything up before the year’s end, we have the added societal pressure of doing so on a high note: of proving our glow-up to the world, demonstrating our progress and accomplishments of the past 12 months. 


All of it caught up with me on the solstice, the first day of winter. I’ve always dreaded this season, though for the first time in my life I’m beginning to wonder if that feeling wasn’t just instilled in me by our cultural values. In many ways, doesn’t winter represent everything that we are struggling with as a society? Establishing sustainability so that we have what we need for the future, decreasing our activity, letting things break down, allowing for emptiness. With her pale hands, Persephone invites us to surrender into stillness and rest. And still, we resist. 


We long for eternal summer, a world of infinite growth, the American dream of perpetual happiness. Like trudging through snow, we are trained to push past the exhaustion, depletion of resources, and shame when things inevitably do break down. But how much is lost in our obsession with progress—both personal and public—no matter the cost? I dream of a world in which we welcome the winter, and nature’s summons to slow in step with the season.


I suspect that we all possess some piece of Persephone’s dual-sided spirit, for just as we are a part of nature, she is a part of us. This year, I’m choosing to stay open to this season of stillness, and the possibility that I might break free of the conditioning that prevents me from welcoming it with open arms. I’m giving my ideas of progress back to the earth and embracing the cycles that connect us. In the end, we all have time spent above ground and below—both are a part of life. We can choose to see it as a curse, or we can fall in love with it.

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