The Threshold Season

Author: Rachel Hunsell

“When I think about what the wild is like in the winter, I find myself coming back to the old phrase ‘in the face of having little control over the wild, you can only prepare for it.’ While hiking a trail you have a warm jacket ready for the unforeseen weather, knowing you can put it on, but remembering to take it off when you get too warm. Winter can teach us to prepare for navigating all conditions.” ~ Tony Paz, Director, TAPS Outdoors

As we are becoming fully immersed in the winter season, a season enveloped in holidays, family gatherings and new beginnings, the brisk winter wind of reality greets us over and over again: life has changed and continues to. 

Outside of the collective changes we’ve been facing nationally and globally, the planet continues to turn. We continue to watch our families grow and grieve the ones we’ve lost; we continue to feel the sunshine of love upon our face, but must also face the cold heartache of grief. 

winter fun

Winter has always presented such a frustrating change of daily life for me, a summer child. But, every time I’ve found myself overwhelmed in winter with the loss of what was before, the blooms, beach days, and life with my loved ones staring back at me; I know I must surrender to the new, the leafless trees, cold snowy days, and the living of life with missing faces. It is in these moments of transition I look to lessons of the wilderness for hope. 

I’ve begun to see winter as a threshold of each year, a liminal space that is certainly uncomfortable but can be transformational. As we look to nature, we can find in it reflections of our own lives. 

The quiet stillness of winter invites us to exist in the now, whether that’s choosing to pause for a few minutes outside while carrying in firewood or walking the dogs, acknowledging both the bone-chilling cold and the unique shape of a tree’s branches; or maybe it’s saying their name at a holiday gathering with an empty chair, noticing the space doesn’t feel like it once did before. 

Dr. Alan Wolfelt says when we can courageously “be open to outcome and not attached to outcome,” we welcome the wilderness and can walk alongside one another there. “Complete mastery of a wilderness experience is not possible,” he says. “Just as we cannot control the winds and storms and the beasts in nature, we can never have total dominion over our grief.” 

This is where I find hope in the winter wilderness, an open heart and mind for what is. When we are open to what is and what is to come both in the winter and in our grief, we begin to notice changes in the wilderness around and within ourselves as we begin to move with the season. 

Winter has fostered in me resilience, patience and hope in the wilderness of the world and my grief. The resilience to navigate tough terrain in the mountains and my relationships; the patience to listen to the birds, the leaves beneath my boots and to the hearts of friends, strangers and myself; and an ever-growing hopefulness for sunshine on cold days and for present-minded living, even when the wild winter is uncomfortable.

Rachel Hunsell is Program Manager for TAPS Outdoors.

Photo: TAPS Archives


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