Being rid of that which does not feed us

I have been reading Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, a recommendation of TheHomePlaceWeb blog.

The book provides solace to the soul, and that is something we citizens of Ottawa, Canada need in our difficult times.

Katherine May writes about how we think of life as linear, a slow march from birth to death. That is true, but May reminds us that the pattern of life is also cyclical, or seasonal. We circle through periods of beginnings and endings, storing up and shedding, and wakefulness and sleeping throughout our lives.

At the beginning of a day, or a project, or a course of study, we are similar to trees with green leaves full of chlorophyll. The leaves absorb sunlight and convert carbon dioxide and water into tree food, and we absorb information and convert physical supplies into some sort of product that serves to advance our lives. Spring and summer cycles are about gathering and growing.

At the end of a day, or fiscal year, or a career, we prepare for change in the way of a tree. The chlorophyll in leaves breaks down in fall. The green disappears and exposes other beautiful colours that were always there but hidden. In a process called abscission, the cells between the stem and the branch weaken until supply to the leaf is cut off and the leaf falls. In our lives, this is when we pass on clothes we no longer need, or clear out university textbooks, or pack up personal belongings from the office and walk out the door.

Abscission, the process required for shedding of leaves, is “part of an arc of growth, maturity, and renewal.” In other words, to protect ourselves and stay strong, sometimes we need to rid ourselves of that which no longer feeds us.

BUT—and this is important —even on the coldest, darkest days of winter, when deciduous trees appear fully dead, there are buds. They are small and protected by thick scales, but they are there.

“We rarely notice them because we think we’re seeing the skeleton of the tree, a dead thing until the sun returns. But look closely, and every single tree is in bud . . .”

From Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
A twig of a deciduous tree in February against a background of snow. The branch has buds protected by thick scales.
Buds waiting for the sun

On this cold winter day in Ottawa, it helps me to know that buds are in place. It allows me to believe that the events taking place in downtown Ottawa had a spring, summer, and fall season and that the time of shedding approaches.

Soon we will be rid of that which does not feed us.

14 thoughts on “Being rid of that which does not feed us

  1. Joni

    A lovely and hope-filled post! Thanks for the shout-out! I hope things are better there soon. It seems to have dissipated in my neck of the woods.

  2. karen

    A timely post, as it is the full moon tonight: a time to release and surrender all that no longer serves us. A time to rest. Ahh, sounds about right as I lay on my couch.

  3. marianbeaman

    Thank you for the book recommendation, Arlene. I wonder if our library has a copy. I’m glad you keep in touch with nature during these difficult times–what a solace. And thanks too for adding a new word to my vocabulary, abscission. 😀

    P.S. Here’s to shedding the plague in downtown Ottawa. Hugs!

  4. Ally Bean

    A lovely way to understand life, the changes within it. I like winter in principle, although this year not so much. Learning that deciduous trees may appear dead, but have buds, is charming. There’s something comforting in that thought.

  5. kyoungtravels

    Excellent post, Arlene. This really spoke to me. I always think of life as a combination of linear and cyclical, like a coil laid on its side. We move forward, but we’re always circling at the same time. Kathryn

  6. Margaret

    Comforting. Yet in the heat of summer, the leaves on the tops of the trees are already starting to turn and fall is coming. I compare life to a bunch of detours in a road, like branches of a tree. Sometimes they loop around but other times you just have to adjust to the scenery on your new path.


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