In winter, chaos overpowers our feebler efforts at creating cosmos. What defeats our efforts is cold, which is not itself anything. We have a tiny bit less grace, in the form of light and heat, and the garden fails, revealing the insufficiency of our best plans and our diligent labor.
Of course, winter is mild, as withdrawals of grace go. It’s a slight restraint–maybe no more than necessary to get us to contemplate where we are and how things are. Every day the sun returns, albeit more briefly than in June, low in cloud-covered southern sky. The spruce and fir that can survive -80 degrees are not stressed, so green life persists. The snow melts and recedes a bit in those moments above 32 degrees. A fire of dry larch in the basement stove is enough to keep the furnace from kicking on. Most plants are dormant rather than dead, and the annuals have scattered seeds that are several paradigms afield from being dead. It’s a meager time–less light and a subdued palette of pastels mixed with white and gray–a world turned quiet and clear.
In good years, it is no apocalypse–just a time of restraint and caution and respite from endless labor. Outdoors is inhospitable, it’s true, and we would not survive naked for very long, so we carry fine chunks of wood we split and hauled in autumn from the shed to the stove, we find ample fresh produce at the market to add to a large Sunday pot of stew, and we start long books with the anticipation that there will be time.
After the equinox, our thoughts increasingly turn to the future–fruit trees we will prune in March, the Laburnum tree that might blossom for the first time this May, the best location to plant new mountain laurel shrubs. The real work of gardening is largely imagining–envisioning a potential order, down to the scents and colors, that would be good, that we choose from a plenitude.
The world tilts and turns and the light changes. We watch and let go and take hold. Creation is collaboration with what endures–a basic vocabulary that includes rocks and stars and music and number. If the universe is a theory of evolution, cosmos is a story of care. Creation is not a thing but a place.