This is, of course, winter. A much-despised season, anywhere the temperatures drop below freezing. Snow! Ice! Freezing rain! Cold! Wind! Overcast gray days and long, deep nights.
Why do people hate winter? Our ancestors may have dreaded it when there wasn’t enough fuel put by, or the harvest was poor, or the goat went dry early. But if there was plenty of firewood or peat, the pantry was stocked, and the animals had fodder for the whole season, it must have been a pleasant time of gathering the family, resting and getting indoor tasks done. Outside of the chores in barn or byre, the wood to be carried in to the fire, the meals to cook, it was a time for stories, sewing, knitting, handwork, and love. (I’d rather give birth in August or September, when there is plenty to eat and the days are warm.)
Why do we hate it now? Because we have to go out in it, we say, to drive the car to work, to go shopping, to take the children to school or activities. It interferes with our routine, it causes accidents, it isolated us from what we want to do.
But isn’t that because, in the late twentieth century, we were promised a life of endless summer days, climate controlled, with all the year-round diversions we can stand? Don’t we expect to buy strawberries in February, tomatoes in March? Don’t we demand lettuce on our ground beef patties every single day of the year?
It was a beguiling song. Science and capitalism would give us the indoor shopping mall, the fast food restaurant, the supermarket, and we would never have to be concerned about seasons again out there in God’s nasty creation. Seasons spoiled our fun. Saving and planning were old-fashioned. Life could be, the advertising told us, a perfect day at the beach, all the time.
But our much-abused and polluted planet fought back, metaphorically speaking. Maybe we should have paid more attention in physics class. Laws of energy? What are they for? For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
We danced the minuet of careless youth too long, and the piper wants overtime.
I don’t think we can go back to the days of endless summer, to climate-controlled malls and the dream of the long cruise to nowhere. Those pursuits have bankrupted us. We have to live in the world’s seasons again, adapting to the changes, and adjusting for each year.
I would like to think we can do it. We can give up on making summer out of winter, and spring out of summer. We may not get fresh tomatoes year-round, but have to can our own, grown in our own gardens, cooked and bottled in our own kitchens. The mall may have to close. The whirlwind of revolving credit will have to blow itself out in a hundred thousand pitiful personal insolvencies and fiscal failures.
One of the reasons for the interest that thas grown in Plain-living people is because we envy their independence from our culture. Really, they have their own culture to contend with, but we envy the big gardens and the ingrained self-sufficiency. The world is charmed by plainness. They seem so in tune with life itself, and that isn’t far wrong, even if romanticized.
But who wants to give up the mall, make-up, television, tight jeans, fast cars, and the American dream of success and prosperity?
That is what it will take, and that dream is becoming a nightmare.
I am enjoying this winter. Right now, we have life arranged so that we don’t have to go out everyday. The truck sits in the driveway for days. Some weeks, the only person who starts it is the man who plows the snow. (I have the best plowman – he moves the truck, clears it off, plows behind it, and shovels the step.) I have a stock of food, mostly dried beans and winter vegetables. I make our meals out of some verybasic ingredients. If we run out of milk or eggs, we manage without them. If we don’t have meat for a week, it is fine with us. We are not spending much money except to prepare for our life here at the homestead.
I know that many have jobs that are necessary to pay the bills – the mortgage, the loans, the utilities. We manage on very little. It has taken catastrophe to get us here, but now I regret that we didn’t get here sooner, without all the trouble. It’s true – Plain life is good.
But can you shake off the cycle of debt yourself? What sacrifices would you have to make – shopping, vacation, hobbies, cable tv, cellphones, second car? What would it take to make you enjoy winter as a quiet time of peace and rest?
My suggestion, short of voluntarily throwing it all to the winds: Stop shopping. Get rid of all extraneous activities, from television to bowling league. Cook from basics, going to the supermarket but once a month. Work out a plan to pay off your debt, except your mortgage, in a year. I don’t have to tell you how -there’s lots of expert advice out there. All it takes is self-discipline and getting your family in line with it. Cut out all those unnecessary trips in the car. Tell your kids they are staying at home.
Then, when the financial house is in order, tell the boss you don’t need to work as much. Cut back to three or four days a week. Telecommute. Work as a consultant, scheduling your own time. Even if you have a tiny lot in a city, dig up your lawn or patio and plant your own food. Keep a few chickens if you can. Even in an apartment you can find some garden space – planters indoors, window boxes, balconies.
Or change jobs. Take something that pays less but is closer to home. Don’t worry about the prestige. It is more important to be a good parent to your kids and a good partner to your spouse than to have people see you in your suit and tie, driving an expensive car downtown. They won’t think about you a second later, if they ever noticed you at all.
Then you can enjoy winter. You can stay home and rest and read and watch your kids grow up. You’ll have time for church and friends. You will have time to know yourself, even – and give yourself over to God, thankful for His creation.