I awoke to the sound of someone nailing railroad spikes into the side of our house. Then, the mystery handyman switched to power tools and fired up a jackhammer and started on our cedar siding. The racket was intense, and the fact that this was all going down before morning coffee made me especially foggy headed.

Stuffing my feet into my slippers, I hurried downstairs and crept quietly out the patio door. I craned my neck around the house corner, my ears ringing from the racket, and there he was in all his black-and-white glory. Close up, pileated woodpeckers are huge. I call them pterodactyls. This fellow visits us a lot in the winter, defying his local nickname of “ghost bird.” We see this magnificent guy several times a week at our feeders. I’ve just never found him clinging to our house wall, doing exterior remodeling not seven feet from my nose.

At the sight of me, he spread his huge wings and swept away for the trees, wind whooshing through his feathers. We have many kinds of woodpeckers here in the enchanted forest, and at this time of year they are stunningly visible through the skeleton limbs of the trees. All of them flash various stripes and spots of black, white, and red, and their presence helps to usher winter into my soul.

All my senses are being whispered to of the cold time that is upon us. Eyes, ears, skin, and heart listen almost unconsciously to the changes around me, and my body begins to become a piece of winter along with the rest of the landscape.

Winter. Move slowly and conserve energy. Protect myself from the elements. Become as quiet inside as the forest under a fresh drifting of snow. Be still as the trees and waters become still, cloaked in glistening shawls of ice. The chickens are going to bed much earlier these days, and so am I.  The garden lies bedded under a deep mulch of shredded leaves, dry grass, and coffee grounds. I go to sleep at night under the deep mulch of fresh fiberglass insulation raked into our attic space.

This year, my inner voice is suggesting a different approach to wintering. In the past, I have faced winter mostly with a sense of bracing my mind, body, and heart against the formidable winter elements. My mind warns me, “Watch out for the ice, bundle up, squint your eyes, huddle against the cold.” All my winter messages seem to have been ones of warning.

This winter, I am listening to a gentle voice inside whispering different advice. “Be warm,” my heart suggests. “Be warm.”

This is a profound switchover in my soul’s perception. Maybe it’s been my meditation practice over the year, or my regular routine of taking two morning hours to myself each day. I don’t know. From somewhere inside me, unbidden, rises an urge to warm myself in every way rather than to brace myself in every way.

I’ve bought a new Goodwill wardrobe of thick chenille, nubbly fleece, and sweat pants in bright colors to keep myself both toasty and warm-hearted in the house. Bread, I find, warms me inside and out—the smell of it baking, the heat of the oven, the taste if it hot out of the oven and dripping butter.

Petting the rabbits, Freckles and Sophia, warms me in the mornings. Their winter fur is so deep and soft and inviting. And my heart warms when I see their eyelids droop with delight in response to the feel of my hands stroking them slowly from nose to tail. Writing warms me. Hot baths in the evening and blankets to snuggle under in front of the TV are just right. Calling old friends makes my heart all toasty. Chocolate in any form is heartwarming. Candles light me from the inside out. Sometimes humming can take the chill away.

Like many, I suffer from the lack of light in the winter months, and find that my depression—always an element in my life—wants to become more active in the cold and dark. So, I am listening to my heart voice, when it says, “Be warm.”  Warming myself from the inside out feels entirely different to me than “bracing” myself. Warming myself in every mental and sensual way I can think of is a delightful task. Not so with bracing. You see the difference, don’t you? You feel it. Bracing is like a shudder. Warming is like an “ahhh…”

Taking the time and focus to warm myself in many ways every day is not being self-absorbed. It is a new kind of winter survival skill I’m practicing, and I feel blessed to have found it.

This morning, a new dusting of snow is on the deck. The pond is muddy and frozen over, and I can see the warm breath of our dogs turn to ice crystals as they trot outside to do their morning oblations. Carter is just lighting the woodstove, and my hands are chilly. Oatmeal sounds good. And I think I’ll bake a cake tonight after I take the dogs out to run. Watching them cavort always warms me down to my toes.

How are you warming yourself on these cold days?

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