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February 26, 2021

Wintering, by Katherine May

It’s funny you know, for some reason I was expecting a more literal guide to surviving winter with Katherine May’s Wintering, but she writes about having to wait years for snow to fall where she lives in the south of England. In order to get a handle on winter’s reality, she has to go on field trips. For her, wintering is a metaphor, an idea—one year, her husband becomes very ill, her own health is suffering, her son stops attending school due to anxiety. She and her family are forced to rest and retreat for a while, to observe a different kind of season, but one she feels she has a muscle for after a breakdown she’d experienced as a teenager. Sometimes the best thing is just to submit and acknowledge the season you are in, which is part of a cycle.

Wintering is a fascinating book about reconnecting with cycles, seasons, the rhythms of the natural world. Although it does feel curious to read this book here in Canada, written by a person from a country where people don’t tend to have parkas or even winter boots. May’s winter as metaphor doesn’t always translate here, where the season can go on so long, everything still and frozen, where we’re still digging out long after the vernal equinox. It’s hard to buy that this is a season as rich with life as all the others are. But I suppose that makes the book for me all the more purposeful.

May’s writing is bright and engaging. I kept reading bits aloud to whoever had the good fortune to be in my presence. It made me consider becoming a modern-day Druid, to be honest, and I loved the parts about winter swimming, though I could never dare such a thing.

If you read and enjoyed Wintering, I recommend you read Maria Mutch’s beautiful memoir Know the Night (I reviewed it for the National Post and am still really proud of what I wrote) nominated for a Governor General’s Award in 2014. Definitely the two works are gorgeously complementary.

3 thoughts on “Wintering, by Katherine May”

  1. Lindsay says:

    I recently read Wintering too, after hearing a really nice interview with Katherine May on the On Being podcast. I found it to be such a warm, comforting read. I will check out the other book you recommended as well.

  2. Sheryl says:

    I had been waiting almost a year for this to arrive in Canada, and was… not exactly disappointed but while it is a beautiful work, it’s not sitting right. Maybe because I was hoping for something either more literal or more metaphorical; it seemed to ride a line that couldn’t decide what it was. I also enjoyed the Druidic references, but they clearly are intended for UK weather patterns and don’t play out here in Canada.

    Maybe because of my current headspace, the idea of downtime, a winter in which we retreat, heal, and become re-energized and re-invigorated is a delightful and optimistic one. This past year has been one extra-long winter and May does offer some guidance in dealing with that. Although winter swimming won’t be on my to-do list either.

    1. Kerry says:

      Maybe someone needs to write the Canadian version of WINTERING! (It would be a much longer book…)

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