There are many reasons for reading a book, which is why the mix of reviews I undertake has such an eclectic feel to it, but one of the most satisfying is to learn from the wisdom of another’s experience. There is a lot of projection in modern life as we all try to put on a good face to the world via our various social media platforms, but how deep do we go in our conversations and relationships as a result? Books offer us that depth when they are written with honesty and accessibility and Wintering is one such resource.
Sometimes it is good simply to know that you are not alone in your struggles, the comfort of knowing that others have travelled the same pathways. Other times you want advice born out of lived experience, you need practicality that can help you make tangible progress. Katherine May achieves both of these by sharing her journey through the dark months of winter, attuning herself to the cycle of change that defines the season and is also an inevitable part of the human experience.
I wonder how much of our wellbeing, or at least our ability to cope, is linked to our connection, or lack of it, to those natural cycles. The way that Katherine’s narrative ties together her personal mental journey with travels through nature perhaps hints at an answer. It certainly felt important and right to me as I read and it is something I have felt a lot recently, as I have been reading about farming lifestyles in which the same themes dominate with caring for the lands inexorably linked to caring for ourselves.
When the author suggests that ‘We’re not raised to recognise wintering, or to acknowledge its inevitability’, she strikes another chord. It feels like we are not raised to meet any of the truly important and meaningful aspects of our lives. Human life in many of our institutions and practises seems to have been reduced to an economic value, rather than intrinsic human value, and crucial cultural passages and transitions have been lost from Western culture. Maybe we need to turn to the wild and the as yet “uncivilised” places and people that remain for some guidance.
Wintering is a beautifully written book that combines memoir, travel and reflection to express some honest fruits of experience. For that, it is both an important book in its own right and also a model for sharing together with integrity and learning from each other. From the Northern Lights to Stonehenge and the volcanic waters of Iceland the author’s journeying shadows her deepest emotions and presence. A gift that can help us prepare for all the seasons of life, especially the darkest.