Yesterday, when I pulled aside the yellow straw that served as their winter blanket, I really didn’t expect to see their small heads nestled against the black soil. It is early yet—still February, just barely—but there they were. My breath caught in delight: Thin spears of purple asparagus yawned and stretched up toward a cloudy, cold sky.
They are babies yet, just planted from seed last spring when their stalks were only fine filaments of green. Now, they stand like sturdy pipe cleaners. They are not the first greetings of this changing season. There are others, like the hostas sending their hard arrowheads up in the front yard, and the already-flowering bittercress with its peppery taste that lends such a fine bite to my spring salads of dandelion leaves, violets, nipple wort, chickweed, and Herb Robert…
The nettle starts I planted a few weeks back are already standing tall, and our apple trees have their first green buds. Each new day in my backyard, the promise of the growing season sings her sweet song in the leaves and buds swelling and popping.
All these signs make visible the mystery that has been transpiring underground in past dark months of winter. We think of winter as a time of dormancy when not much is happening in the natural world save hibernation and stillness. It looks as though everything stops for a long while, holding its breath, waiting for the warmth and the light. Our own bodies and spirits seem to do the same as we move inside and down into our centermost being. We contract, just as Earth seems to do.
Yet, just as with our own unconscious, there is so much happening below the surface. Agricultural visionary Rudolf Steiner offered an image of winter as the time when the Earth grows vigorously down instead of up. As leaves and limbs stretch to the sun in the growing moons, roots and filaments and soil life grow actively down toward their own sun at the molten center of the Earth. Reaching toward a dark light, a dark heat, life continues to expand and celebrate its dark season below the surface.
I love this image. I toy with the notion of soil and minerals singing sweet songs below the grass and leaf mold. I picture tendrils of roots racing like spring rivulets down past bedrock. I imagine the gnomes busy in their caverns below with lanterns of molten lava.
When I was little and curled up in the dark blanket of predawn, I would hear the sounds of my mother moving about in the kitchen. She always rose early, and I would sleep in those early hours deeply comforted that someone who loved me was on watch in my world. I like to think of winter like that: Someone who loves us keeping house and keeping watch in the dark.
There have been many times in my own life when depression or trauma made me near-dead on the surface, but life continued on within, and eventually, I would start greening again. Because we always start greening again, given the time. This, to me, is one of the most comforting promises of the seasonal turnings: Life never stops. It goes within and it blossoms without, but it never stops. Perhaps death is protracted season of ingoing, our roots extending downward toward a dark heat, until we blossom again in some other spring in some other magical realm.
Here in the Northwest, Winter seems to have had a particularly vigorous underground season, because she simply can’t wait to hand her cloak over to Spring this year. We are entering the growing season early. But in my own heart, I will keep Winter close just a bit longer. The dark—while she has stalked me a great deal in my life—remains a profound and treasured teacher.
May your roots run deep, and your shoots rise to the coming promise of all things new and refreshed and reborn.