Ahh… Snow! Snow days unapologetically insert their will into our modern lives, clogging the gears of our machine-driven society. I’ve always delighted in this phenomenon, but this winter – my first winter living in an off-grid 314 square foot yurt – I more fully understand why it’s just so satisfying!
We had our first big snowstorm of the year this week – nearly a foot! Mark and I cancelled our day’s plans and burrowed into our cozy home. We spent the hours stoking the fire, drinking cream-doused chaga (an immune boosting boiled tree fungi…yum!) and balsam needle tea, slurping soup that simmered on the woodstove all day getting better each hour, praying, reading, resting, burrowing… ah! My body and soul finally felt aligned with the cold and darkness. I needed this snow day to finally embrace the season. Herein lies the magic of a heavy snow – it forces us into our creatureliness. When our roads are blocked and our meetings canceled we can finally burrow in like the mammals we are.
Of course, I didn’t need to live in a yurt to experience this snow day magic – I’ve been experiencing it my whole life in perfectly modern, wired, square houses. Yet experiencing my first snowfall in a small round home with not much more than the bare essentials, I felt a new and deep kinship with the creatures just outside our thin walls. As we drifted off to sleep, my mind wandered to these critters. Where are they burrowing?
The barred owls we still hear most nights are roosting in the pine trees – the splayed out boughs providing shelter from the heavy snowflakes. I imagine their heads shrunk into their fluffed plumage and their eyes squeezed shut – waiting.
The squirrels and chipmunks burrow deep into their nests of leaf litter in semi-hibernation. Do they wish they slept as soundly as brother bear does like Mark wishes he slept as soundly as I do? Who knows? I do know both rodents and bears curl up and wait.
The deer yard up under a stand of conifers, taking advantage of the natural protection of the ever-green boughs like their winged friends. They huddle close, the warmth of the whole greater than their individual heat index. And they wait.
Our porcupines – or “quillpigs” as we affectionately call them – are indubitably cozy in the rocky foundation under our workshop. This prickly family has become a nuisance as they’ve made home beneath our infrequently used workshop and gnawed on the wooden door. Gratefully only the wood of the one door seems to satisfy their taste buds. Otherwise the entire wooden structure might be a porcupine’s smorgasbord! We lived in this workshop for a few weeks before building our yurt and were amazed at how much porcupines had to discuss! All. Night. Long. They murmured back and forth with an intensity that led me to think Mr. Quillpig got home from a night out a little later than Mrs. Quillpig felt acceptable. Whatever squabbles we’ve had with them (or they with each other) I am grateful to know they’re cozy and warm under our hand-built structure just as we’re cozy and warm in our yurt up the hill. Harsh conditions evoke mammalian kinship I suppose – especially if we’re already well-fed by other means.
The porcupines huddle up and wait… and so do we.
The societal forces to be out and about during this cold, dark season feel absurdly incongruous with our creatureliness. Holiday parties, Christmas shopping, hosting preparations, charitable drives shout for our attention – all on top of our ordinary contributions to a productive society. Meanwhile, our bodies, the darkness, the cold, and the snow are inviting us to burrow, to rest, to cease productivity. To wait.
For our non-human friends, burrowing is about survival. Going to holiday parties would use up precious energy needed to make it through the winter. Productivity would be deadly. Human animals have discovered other sources of energy beyond our caloric intake. We have oil and hydro-dams and coal and wind turbines. Lucky us! We don’t ever have to stop. We can keep going and burning and producing and consuming and…
We have much to learn from our instinct-driven friends. For the health of our bodies, our culture, our earth, and our souls, may we learn to burrow, to listen, to wait.