The Slowing Down Time

treeContrary to most of the hype and hustle associated with the holiday season, for us it’s a slowing down time.

The yard is how the yard’s going to be until spring.

School semesters are ending.

The chimney sweep and the wood man paid visits.

And we grow quiet. Yes, there’s the occasional visit or party, and Friday night we’ll go see the Nutcracker Ballet, but we stay home a lot. We build fires. We sit on the sofa and watch lights twinkle. We light the Advent Candles at our evening meal.

There’s the downside of cold weather: my fingernails break off at the first cold snap; my shoulders hunch; I wear socks to bed. The fleece vest with pockets becomes my everyday garb. I’m cold all the time. The silk undershirts and silk under-socks come out of the bottom drawer. My birth date is exactly opposite Christmas Day and this is the bottom of the year for me; I wait for Solstice, or Sun Return as the ancients often called it.

In Mexico, a visit to Xochicalco showed me first hand the power of Solstices. It’s a pre-columbian site south of Mexico City where the ancients, it’s said, came from all over Mexico to coordinate their calendars once a year. Their observatory was a cave with a hole drilled in the top where the sun poured through at Summer Solstice and hit a precise mark on the stone floor. I’m glad I got to see it. Coordinating their calendars made trade much easier; and trade and communication kept everyone relatively peaceful until the Aztecs came along.

In Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, a solar calendar is engraved into Fajada Butte, dating back to the year 800. It’s a more sophisticated calendar tracking solar and lunar progressions. They used it for the same reasons: know when to plant as winter is unpredictable on the high desert; know when the festival days approached; know the timing of trade and travel. A scrabbling rocky path along the butte wall carried me to that calendar, a calendar the conquering Conquistadors had no use for. And so, it remains.

We’ve lost so much of what the ancients knew in their bodies.

Watching solar and lunar progressions began in my childhood. When you live on a High Plains farm on a rise with a view for ten miles in any direction, you learn to watch the seasons. I was cold all the time then, too, but cows still needed milking morning and night; chickens needed food or eggs gathered; animals needed hay and protection from the winds. I stationed myself near the gas stoves or the floor furnace grate whenever possible.

I’ve considered, from time to time, whether I might be part bear.

Following the movements of seasons seems natural to me. I layer the layers and keep pockets handy to warm my fingers. I slow down.

And then we stop.


16 thoughts on “The Slowing Down Time

  1. While this native Californian can’t totally identify with the hunkering down for the winter and slowing down, January always seems to be the big let down, at least it’s true in Northern Cal. Snow in the mountains 60 miles away, fog in the valley, no sun for several days and cold. Not midwest cold but upper 30s/40s at night. I do look forward to the slowing down, now that I teach. I have the entire month of January off so slow is good! Wonderful post, Janet.

    1. Thank you, Terri. I always enjoy your comments. I expect the damp cold in Northern California is still cold. We went to visit San Francisco in May one year and I was cold all the time! Loved the city though. I think I like the fog best in summer….:)

  2. Janet, I snort – laughed when I read the vest sentence… and love you even more. My go-to uniform from October – March is a turtleneck or thermal top, vest, wool socks, and my gloves… and that’s just in the house! I drank 4 cups of herbal tea today (which had the added benefit of warming my always frigid hands). I agree that it is important to put quiet and stillness above holiday hustle and bustle.

    1. Well, we’re two of a kind, Jen. Temperature drops below 70 and my fingertips turn white. I think that’s why my fingernails start breaking off. No blood flow! Yup. Turtlenecks, fleece vests, …oh, have you tried silk undershirts? Land’s End has them. That’s the next to skin layer these days although the last two days, oddly enough, have been in the upper 60s so I finished yard work and put away the tools. Enough with the outside stuff!

      1. I finally went to the doctor last winter, because my toes were turning blue, and found out I have Raynaud’s. After my doctor told me I said, “uhh, you know it’s winter here 8 months of the year right? ” She smiled and shrugged. I love Lands End and have 1 second skin top and 3 turtlenecks wrapped under the Christmas tree. I have running gloves with “smart touch” fingers so I can still use my phone. I wear them to bed sometimes when it gets super cold… or I do. Glad you got your yard taken care of. My procrastination won this year. I barely got the outside faucet cover on in time this year. Unfortunately, the garden hose I neglected to wrap and store is buried under a few feet of snow. I’ll have to wait for the spring thaw.

      2. Well, that’s interesting information. I looked up Raynaud’s. Yep. Came on in childhood. I was always cold on the farm in winter, and it began in childhood. I don’t have the severe kind and can manage, but finding there were Raynaud’s gloves was fabulous information. The suggestion that made me laugh right out loud was “move to a warmer climate.” Do tell.

        I’m always happiest in the tropics. But oh, well. I live in Kansas City.

        I laughed at your line, “my procrastination won this year.” I’ve had years like that. Most years, actually. But since I finished writing the manuscript and sent it out to readers, I have waaaaaaaay too much free time on my cold hands. 🙂

  3. What a wonderful post, Janet! I’m there with you as you describe the “slowing down” and the search for warmth. Even though I grew up in the rather temperate state of North Carolina, I remember dressing by the floor furnace in our small house. It was the only source of heat in our home. I remember my mother turning on the oil, lifting up the floor grate, and dropping a piece of lighted tissue down into the tanks to light the furnace in the morning. I’ll always remember how wonderful it was was to stand by that source of heat in the winter.

    1. Dropping a lighted tissue?? And the furnace went whooooop! Dad had to reach down through the grate to light the pilot light and that was always a scary thing, but it stayed on all winter.

      Thanks also for reposting Carol’s post. I’ll go find that book.

      1. The furnace was under the house, and the grate was over it and took up most of the hallway. Crazy, when I think about it. I’ll have to do a better job of describing this!

      2. Yeah, I got the under the house part. Ours was too, which now that I think about it, I have to wonder. We had a cellar at one side of the house but I don’t think the furnace went down into it. How did those old under house furnaces work anyway??? Or get installed?? The old house was first built in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

  4. There’s a phrase I haven’t heard in years: “floor furnace grate.” In my grandparents’ home, it was embedded in the floor under the arch between the living and dining rooms. It was fancy scrollwork — probably the fanciest thing in the house — and it was the perfect place to play, as long as you remembered to put a blanket atop part of it, and didn’t put your cute little rear end directly on it.

    I’ve been to Chaco Canyon, but I didn’t know about the calendar. If I go back, I’ll pay more attention. When I passed through, I had other things on my mind. Goodness: that was 30 years ago.

    Near the end of the comments on my current blog, Allen Jorgensen left a link to a congregation in Ontario that is moving toward a six-week Advent. You might be interested in what he had to say, and in the information he linked from the church. The only problem I can think of is one I mentioned — that poor Thanksgiving would take another hit. But otherwise, for the Church, it might be worth considering.

    1. Fajita Butte rears up from the desert to the east of the main settlement at Chaco. It’s worth the climb to see it.

      I’m trying to imagine a floor grate in a walkway between arches. Our floor grate was so hot all winter, even a blanket wasn’t enough over it. I think all of us at one time or another slipped a foot or crawled off the sofa wrong and burned ourselves. Dad was ALWAYS fussing about paying attention to the grate.

  5. Janet, your slowing down, Advent, burrowing in to home sound lovely. It’s this time of year that I miss the wood-burning stove we had at our former home, although this year it hasn’t been cold enough many days to really use it. My pre-Christmas, such as it has been, has been a bit too hurried, too much to get done, and I’m getting more organized so that I can enjoy it rather than scurry, scurry, scurry from one thing to another.

    My dad grew up on a farm in Nebraska and although he loved it, he hated the cold. When he retired, he and my mom moved to Arizona where they’re happy in the heat.

    I love winter, but I think the cold would be much more bearable if we had as much daylight in winter as in summer.


    1. I’m with you on the daylight thing! It gets dark early. I don’t know any farmers who don’t hate the cold! It’s cold taking care of cattle and animals and keeping the tractor from freezing up because, after all, you have to hook up the grader and get the lane cleared of snow. My parents often decided Florida was the place to visit. And then when my sister moved to Hawaii, that’s where they went each winter.

      From some miracle of timing, we set a party for the first Sunday of December, so everything had to be up for that. And now it’s done. And we sit. Well, except for today when I went grocery shopping…. LOL. And tomorrow night when we have three invitations and instead are going to see the Sugar Plum Fairies dance.

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