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Wintering

The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

By Katherine May
15-minute read
Audio available
Wintering by Katherine May

Wintering (2020) is the compelling account of how author Katherine May learned to embrace a bleak, harsh season in her own life by turning to the lessons of winter. From saunas to cold-winter swimming, wolves to winter solstice, May looks to how animals, plants, and cultures throughout history have survived, and even flourished, in the darkest time of the year.

  • Anyone embarking on, or going through, one of life’s fallow periods
  • Sun lovers who feel gloom at the thought of winter
  • People who crave a deeper connection with the natural world

Katherine May is a writer of both fiction and nonfiction who has a particular fascination with the rhythms of the natural world. Her other books include The Electricity of Every Living Thing and The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club. She was formerly director of the creative writing program at Canterbury Christ Church University.

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Wintering

The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

By Katherine May
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Wintering by Katherine May
Synopsis

Wintering (2020) is the compelling account of how author Katherine May learned to embrace a bleak, harsh season in her own life by turning to the lessons of winter. From saunas to cold-winter swimming, wolves to winter solstice, May looks to how animals, plants, and cultures throughout history have survived, and even flourished, in the darkest time of the year.

Key idea 1 of 9

Like winter, challenging periods of life are natural and inevitable.

A week before her 40th birthday, the author, Katherine May, was gathered with friends on a beach in Folkestone, when her husband complained of feeling ill. At first, they were both inclined to dismiss it as a minor ailment, but over the course of the day he grew steadily worse.

By the evening he was admitted to the emergency ward with what he suspected was appendicitis. Treatment was deferred until the following morning, and in the night his appendix burst. For a week his life hung in the balance. His recovery was equally slow and painful.

For the author, this was just the beginning of a fraught and challenging season in her life.

The key message is: Like winter, challenging periods of life are natural and inevitable.

At the time her husband fell ill, May’s life was already in flux. She’d just given notice at her academic job and was hoping to find fulfillment outside the nine-to-five. Shortly after her husband’s illness, she began to notice signs of ill health in herself. After months of increasingly debilitating symptoms and grueling tests, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disorder. No longer a productive employee, she suddenly found herself unemployed and unable to do the creative work she’d envisioned.

The author’s son was also in distress. Just six, he already felt pressure to meet academic targets at school and was traumatized by the bullying of his peers. So the author made the difficult decision to embark on homeschooling.

Illness, upheaval, and anguish forced May out of her routine. She rested. She slowed down. She allowed herself to feel sad. She paid more attention to the world around her. She even began to find pleasure in this new way of living.

She’d always been interested in the natural world and its rhythms. And so, in a period of her life that felt as bleak and harsh as winter, she began to look to that season for lessons. She noticed that, unlike humans, plants and animals don’t try to resist winter. They know that winter is very different from summer. So they adapt or hibernate. They gather their resources, rest, and regenerate. When the season has passed, they emerge, transformed.

She began to think that wintering might be as essential to humans as it is to plants and other animals.

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