I didn’t know it at first, but when the pandemic started in March, I started practicing the Scandinavian concept “friluftsliv” (free-loofts-leev). Directly translated, it means “free-air life,” but it’s basically the concept of spending time outdoors in all seasons, having space from other people, and being able to wander freely outside.
Since March, I’ve wandered the streets of my neighborhood frequently, usually without a destination in mind. I was surprised, at first, at the perspective this practice gave me. Even as 2020 took turn after devastating turn, there was still so much beauty. The world hadn’t, in fact, stopped. The trees still blossomed, right on time. Tiny green buds still sprang up out of the soil. The birds still went about their business as usual. (I grew particularly attached to a blue scrub jay that nested in the trees about a block from our house).
I thought, at first, that the novelty of walking around my neighborhood would wear off. That I would get bored when the stunning beauty of spring faded and summer arrived. But I was wrong – there was still much to appreciate. 2020 continued to be a perpetual and somehow worsening trainwreck… and nature just kept nature-ing. The sun continued to shine. The grass continued to grow. Flowers continued to bloom. The sky was as blue as ever.
Something about the natural world continuing on without a care- in spite of everything – was incredibly steadying to me. I wasn’t disappointed when summer turned to autumn. The trees exploded with bright orange, glowing yellow, and fiery red foliage. The leaves carpeted everything, making a walk down the sidewalk more like a walk down the red carpet. I didn’t even need to leave my neighborhood to see it.
As all the leaves began to fall, I grew increasingly anxious about what a long, cold, dark, and lifeless winter might do to my spirit. Seattle winters can be tough. We don’t get much sun. The color is leached from everything and the world turns to a dull, muted grey for months. In an effort to prepare myself for the winter ahead, I started mentally cataloging things in nature that I thought might make the season bearable. To my surprise, I found incredible beauty in what I thought was emptiness:
It’s easier to see birds perched in the tree in my backyard when there are no leaves in the way. I’ve learned that song sparrows, house finches, black-eyed juncos, and hummingbirds like to socialize there. The frost on the grass in morning looks glitters like fairy dust. Red berries cling tightly to exposed branches, a burst of color against a darkening blue sky. A small tree I walk by daily has knotted, gnarled, and warty branches that curl around themselves in tight spirals. You can only see this chaotic beauty in the winter, when there are no leaves to obscure it.
About a month ago, a dear friend told me that she loves the winter months because it’s only during winter that we get to look forward to an imminent spring. We get to see the world at rest, preparing for the burst of life that is to come. Sure, winter can be cold (so bitingly cold). It can be dark. The sun can hide behind curtains of rain and gloom for days and weeks and sometimes even months on end. But winter is also a season of anticipation, of hope, and of certainty that – yes – there is light and life and warmth just ahead.
With that in mind, I bid you all a Happy Winter Solstice! Here’s to the light and life and beauty that are just ahead. We’ll get through 2020. We’ll get through this winter. We’ll get through this pandemic. And as we do, the world will keep on doing what it does best; winter turning to spring, turning to summer, turning to fall, turning to winter…
(P.S. I learned about friluftsliv a few weeks ago from a daily Seattle podcast I listen to. You can listen to the episode here.)