Carter woke me up early this morning. “I wanted you to see the snow!” he said. In the glow of the outside yard lights the yard looked like a field of milk. A strong east wind had picked up somewhere in the night and as I watched the snow, it twirled and billowed outside my window like white, sweet smoke from a pipe.
At six in the morning, Carter had already gone outside to hang the hummingbird feeders, which have been freezing overnight. I put the feeders in the kitchen at night now, on the heat of my stove’s pilot light. By six-thirty, the first hummingbird had already arrived, fluffing his feathers in the dark and taking a long, deep drink of sugar water. He is an Anna’s hummingbird, a common winter neighbor here in the Northwest. I call him Mr. Big. Around the corner at the other feeder by the kitchen door, I knew Mrs. Big was standing guard over her sugar goldmine.
After enjoying just half my cup of coffee, I pulled on my fleece boots and ran outside in my pajamas to put out seeds for the morning birds and squirrels. It was still dark outside and the cold hit me like ice water. Quickly, I filled up the feed tubs and scattered seeds all over the yard. The juncos, towhees, and chickadees spilled onto the frozen lawn like a tumble of low-blowing leaves. I ran back into the house, darted back under my quilts, and watched the show from the warmth of my bed.
The hummingbirds mesmerize me. How can something so small be so darn fierce? Mr. and Mrs. Big guard their feeders like roman soldiers, body-slamming the other hummers when they can. I know I have at least two other Anna’s hummingbirds that are regulars at our feeders, because I’ve seen four hummers all at once, but there may be several more, coming in small shifts. Mostly, they approach from the opposite side of the feeders from Mr. and Mrs. Big. Sometimes a hummer comes and teases Mr. Big away from his feeder, while another hummer sneaks in for a drink. These wily little birds remind me of a pack of clever coyotes, using tricks to get what they need.
Chipper, the squirrel, has to do battle with a big fat jay each morning over the peanuts. Mostly, the jay is faster, but Chipper has an advantage: He is brave enough to approach me for food, sometimes even gently patting my pants leg when my back is turned, to ask for a meal. Of course, he always gets one, and more.
On the ground and atop my big platform feeder, which is actually just an old screen door on top of a wooden dishwasher shipping crate, the birds vie for position among the seeds. Some get their meals by being especially swift. Some by being bossy and belligerent. But all of them seem to be enacting this basic seasonal truth: In the cold, take care of what is yours.
Winter energies are traditionally seen as the time for going deep within and resting your heart and soul in a place of deep renewal. It is the hibernating time. The death time. In ancient days, winter was an inside time of hearth and lodge fires, small hand projects, stories, and survival.
Winter is the hard season. It is hard on the body, and the low sun makes it hard on the heart for many people prone to mood problems. Winter weather makes it harder to get around. Today with the snow, I’m hearing reports of all sorts of road accidents. For wild animals, it is the time to be extremely parsimonious with food, with energy, with resources of any kind. Yesterday, I watched a bird get grumpy about sharing the ice-free water at the pond with his bird buddy.
In winter, if we don’t take care of what is ours, we may come to suffer.
Winter is when I write. In the lush flush of summer, while I garden and busy myself with too many yard projects, I am making stories and books in my head. I build the big picture of a writing project in my mind. I may take some notes. I’ve tried to write in the summer, but I am distracted and fidgety. I can’t sit quiet at the computer for long. Then, the days get short, the sun bends the shadows into sharp angles, the clouds and rain move in, and my fingers itch to get at the keyboard and start writing. This is one of the ways I take care of what is mine in winter: I make time to write. Writing for me is like food. Were I to lose this sustenance, I would quickly come to suffer. So I give myself to my writing in winter, like Mr. Big gives himself over to the sweet nourishment of the sugar nectar.
I also guard my quiet time in winter. I accept very few nighttime invitations for anything. I dive into my jammies at around five o’clock, and stop answering the phone by seven. Quiet is my own kind of hibernation. If you force a hibernating animal to wake up, you put an enormous stress on its system. If you force me to be more interactive than I can handle in winter, I go nuts. As Dirty Harry so wisely said: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” A woman does, too. Part of taking care of what is mine—my health, my wellbeing, my sustenance—is knowing my limitations.
Outside, Mr. Big is sitting on the far left perch rung of his precious feeder. Surprisingly, on the right sits a young hummer, sipping cautiously. Taking care of what is ours doesn’t mean being selfish. I want to stress that, especially at this time of year. Most often, there is enough for everyone. The universe just wants to be sure that we care enough about our lives to be protective of them, and smart-minded about them, and appreciative for them. After all, life is a pretty grand gift.