Winter harvest

“Bringing home the fruits of our preparation, our thought and our labor at the right time has always been one of the very great necessities of a human life. As any harvest time approaches, and what we have worked for so diligently begins to ripen, the stakes rise dramatically. The forces and the elements of nature and weather become magnified in their effect, and as the appointed days arrive, everything suddenly seems to become fully allied to our hopes or a mortal enemy to our future happiness. As things approach ripeness the rest of the world, human or animal, also takes notice, and moves in for a share of our bounty. Just being present at the right time is perhaps the most important thing of all. This year saw me bring in a very good harvest of walnuts to dry by the fire, put on the table and see me through the holiday season, mostly because I was able to stay at home during the crucial week. Other years, missing that one stretch of five days in some foreign place, the Squirrels, the Blue Jays and the Crows have left me only a desolation of empty shells scattered from one end of the garden to the other, as if to say, “we were here, and you were not, and so who deserved the bounty?”

Being present is one thing; acting at the right time is another. Whether it be walnuts or apples or wheat, a new business set in motion, or a relationship deepening after its exciting romantic inception, we seem to spend an enormous amount of time in thinking, imagining, preparing, working and worrying things into fullness. Our great difficulty is keeping alive an attentive identity that knows firstly, how to be present and then secondly, to recognize when the season has come to its apogee, when the commitment must be made and the harvest brought in. Often the busy identity that set things going and kept them going is too overloaded and besieged to be able to get its head up from the work and win the fruits of our long hours, or too caught up in the early version of the story, to recognize how the story is reaching its conclusion and must be acted upon, and then at other times, to know when the season of our interest has fully turned and it is now time to move on to other fields of endeavor, no matter the price we get for what we have achieved so far.

Bringing in what we have worked for seems to get more difficult the less it has to do with what is recognizable in the outer world and the more it has to do with a hidden harvest of inner possibility. We would often rather stay in false impossibilities that look good from the outside and that we set for ourselves in the early abstract than choose a really possible happiness in the ripening and very real now. In work we keep on working because it keeps what is seeable in place, meanwhile our ambitions and our interests may have taken a different axis of possible fruitfulness. In relationship we may choose a man or woman who represents an original but impossible ideal, but who has no actual chemistry with our real and particular life and who does nothing but bring us into an intimate encounter with frustration, rather than choosing a possible and reciprocal intimacy with a real chance of future happiness.

All the more difficult then for us to recognize those internal opportunities that present themselves when no outer harvests seem present or possible. We look out at the wintry landscape and feel as if nothing is happening, no growth or fullness is occurring and fail to see the subtler gifts that arrive inside us in times of darkness or disappearance. In the natural world we might be comforted to see there are improbable winter harvests all the time: a late and perfect apple hanging above the frost, the proverbial winter rose, comforting root vegetables, brassicas and even from that most sun associated harvest of the grape, ice wine.

It takes patience, time and attention and perhaps a proper friendship with silence to understand the gifts of winter that make themselves known only to begin with, far inside us, or to properly harvest a metaphorical inner darkness that might be experienced, even at the height of an outside summer. In winter, the outer world may seem to have come to a halt, but inside there is a beautiful hidden intelligence, which left to itself creates its own new birth and arrival, even in the most difficult times. This winter harvest depends on stillness, a learned patience, a radical letting alone of the self, a radical simplification of that self, a giving up of the old light filled certainties and a willingness in the midst of it all, to start again, even when we do not know exactly where to place our feet in the faint light.

All around our world many people experience the fearfulness and uncertainties, the invasion of individual lives by vast abstract government and commercial entities, and the ecological losses of our time as a great besieging darkness, a winter of the individual human soul. It might be that one of the great and beautiful questions we can ask ourselves in times of loss, confusion or exile, as individuals, as citizens of a slowly coalescing planetary imagination, irrespective of national boundaries, irrespective of how we actually would like things to look right now: What is coming to light, far inside us, even in the deep winter of our discontent, and where is the point where our sense of presence, our insight and our understanding, will coalesce far inside us into outer action?”

~ David Whyte

Winter Harvest

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