We Care - Earth Care!
Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church
Winter 2021
The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.
 
                                —Robert Frost
From the Editors
 
Welcome to winter! This issue marks our second year, and the first offering in our new quarterly cycle. We believe that moving from a thematic to a seasonal emphasis will broaden the scope of our magazine while linking it more closely to the original Earth Care program as well as to the church year, both of which were designed around the cycle of seasons. You can expect the same great combination of thoughtful storytelling and spiritual reflection, just with more time to savor and digest. As ever, we invite your comments and contributiions. We’re eager to expand the range of our writers as well as our readers!
 
In this Issue:
 
Speaking of Faith: Rebekah Nolt reflects on Advent; Jerome Stueart remembers the hearth of winter in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Walking the Talk: Julie Malkin explores Seasonal Affectve Disorder (SAD); Sue Spaid plants a Christmas amaryllis; John Tallmadge ponders the winter arts of life in Minnesota
Musical Notes:  Rick Sowash finds inspiration in snowflakes and Thoreau
Speaking of Books: Pam Bach reviews Wintering, by Katherine May; Diane Smith unpacks Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
The Last Word: Five Winter Poems by Bucky Ignatius
Speaking of Faith
On Winter and Advent
Rebekah Nolt writes:
 
The arrival of winter each year always brings mixed emotions. On the one hand I love it because it means Advent, my favorite season of the church year. On the other hand I hate it because the the days are short and my time spent outside in the garden is less comfortable in the cold. Making sure the garden is properly tucked in for winter is among my most pressing tasks at this time of year. Even though spring planting is 5 months away, Advent is the perfect time to start getting ready.  
It might seem odd to focus on the garden as the cold winter winds approach and frost appears each morning. What could one possibly be doing in the garden right now?  Isn’t winter a time for rest; a time to wait expectantly for spring? Isn’t winter a time to hunker down under warm blankets, drink some hot chocolate? Doesn’t the arrival of winter and Advent signal a time to wait?

Wait for what is to come.
       Anticipate the birth of our Christ.
       Hope for a better future, free from suffering and affliction.
       Yearn for the arrival of our God in human flesh, who will usher in the Kingdom that is full of all the goodness we could ever imagine, where all can experience life abundant.
While this might be the time of the year when we wait for spring and the arrival of Emmanuel, the work is not done. The work is never done. Farmers know that winter does not mean there is no work. Even though it is cold and dark outside, we cannot just kick up our feet by a cozy fire dreaming of warmer days to come. In fact, winter is a pretty busy time of year for garden and farm work. 
 
This is the time to pick up those pruners, take out the shears, lift the ax and examine the trees in the orchard. Winter is the time to cut away old growth, clear out what is no longer needed, and make room for something new to grow. Now is the perfect time to prune fruit trees and examine our own lives, individually and collectively, to see how we have grown over the last year and make adjustments so that we can continue to grow towards the light, putting more energy into becoming healthy and strong, not just growing for growing’s sake.  
The Hearth of Winter
 
Jerome Stueart writes:

When I lived in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada (population 23,000), we had plenty of winter. For us, nine months of snow, nine months of frozen packed down snow and ice on the streets, nine months of cold. Snow plows like giant crabs worked day and night to clear the streets, but also, once a season, to pull up the packed snow from the streets like great pieces of white chocolate and pile them near the woods, else the streets would have been stacked higher and higher above the curbs with packed snow/ice. Temperatures fell mostly into the -10ºC to -20ºC (14ºF to -4ºF) range, and we bundled up to go anywhere. I learned fast to wear gloves even if I were just walking to the car. The cracked skin between my fingers revealed how fast the cold could affect me. We plugged in our cars so that our oil pans would stay warm enough to start them in the morning (after thirty minutes of turning the car on!). It was a long, enduring cold. 

But I believe it was truly the warmest time of the year.

There were more parties in Winter—not just at Christmas or Thanksgiving (early October in Canada). People invited others into their homes for large gatherings, just to be with friends in the winter. We’d crowd together and just talk for hours even when it was -20º outside. More events happened in the Winter—sometimes five or six events at the same time. I was a marketing director for an arts center and we hosted 50 events alone every winter. Concerts from local singers and touring musicians, a kids’ dance troupe performance, the Met Opera broadcast in the theatre, multiple art openings—there was a lot to do in the Winter. We kept busy, and we kept active and we kept warm. Warmth was not just staying at home though. Warmth was being with each other.  
This winter, in the cold (whether it will be a mild winter or heavy snow, they don’t know), I hope you might think of each other as the hearth of winter. The warm of each other. We’ve had almost two years where our gatherings—our hearth—has been threatened. We could not physically gather. I think this was the worst effect of COVID, outside of sickness and death, the fear of and for each other that we developed. The fear of gatherings. The fear of each other’s warmth. It will take a lot of courage to push ourselves closer again when it is safer.
Walking the Talk
Seasonal Affective Disorder
 
(Editor’s Note: The following is informational only and not meant to be medical advice. If you, or a family member, is struggling with mood problems, please contact your primary care provider or mental health provider.)
Julie Malkin writes:
 
It is easy to think we have evolved away from effects of nature’s rhythms. Most of us live in comfortable homes with artificial light that allows us to extend our productive time well past sunset. Most of us don’t alter our habits (other than clothing) with changes in the seasons. We eat strawberries in January and ride stationary bikes in the gym year round. Like many, however, in the winter I feel like going to bed earlier, eating more “comfort” foods (like soup and hot chocolate), hunkering down with a book in front of a fire or curling up in a blanket to watch a Netflix series. I have to push myself a bit to get outside for my daily walk or make that phone call to a friend. For some, however, fall and winter bring a more challenging form of hibernation.
 
Some people, who otherwise enjoy good mental health, experience significant alterations in mood and energy in the winter. The American Psychiatric Association, in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual V, classifies Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as a major depressive illness with seasonal variation. Symptoms include persistent depression, loss of interest in usual activities, decreased energy, sleeping more than usual, difficulties with concentration, and changes in appetite or weight. People who experience symptoms of SAD notice a predictable onset of symptoms in the fall, which continue through the winter months, with remission in the spring. While rare, some people experience a spring/summer seasonal depression. Research has found a higher incidence of SAD in northern latitudes, that it affects about 1-5% of the US population, with a higher prevalence among women.
The exact cause of SAD is not well understood. Hypotheses include dysfunction of neurotransmitters in the brain and circadian rhythm “phase-delay” (think jet lag), triggered by seasonal changes in sunlight.
 
A common form of treatment for SAD is light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a “lightbox”, at a distance of about 6-24 inches for 20-30 minutes first thing in the morning. Light boxes that are designed to treat SAD emit 10,000 lux and emit very little UV. Researchers believe that light therapy can imitate natural sunlight and cause chemical changes in the brain that lifts mood. Daily treatment continues through the winter. One study demonstrated statistical improvement in depression scores when compared to placebo, after 3 weeks of treatment.
 
Symptoms of SAD can interfere with one’s ability to carry on normal daily activities. Some people benefit from psychotherapy, antidepressants or Vitamin D, in addition to light therapy. Again, if you think you are affected by SAD or are struggling with any other mood disorder, contact your health care professional. Do not attempt self diagnosis or treatment.
My inclination to slow down and stay indoors in winter may be nature’s call to a spiritual retreat. But, I know myself; I need sunshine, fresh air, exercise and companionship to maintain a generous spirit and positive mood. So, while I don’t really ignore nature’s messages, I am intentional in my practices to maintain physical and emotional health- I put on my warmest clothing, call a friend and head to one of our lovely parks.
 
For more information, the National Institute of Mental Health has a helpful website.
 
If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or use the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.
The Christmas Amaryllis
 
Sue Spaid writes:
In 2012, just before Christmas, I was looking for a thank-you gift for my then boyfriend’s (now husband’s) office since they had let me work there while I was visiting him. He suggested a bunch of tulips, which I thought was neither ecological (December) nor original. By chance, however, I found a boxed amaryllis bulb in a grocery store and bought it for its novelty. He replanted it in a planter and presented it to his officemates.
 
Everyone was in awe when it grew two feet tall. For a week or so, it looked majestic, but then, sadly, it died back. To their utter surprise, however, it bloomed twice more. And since then, we have learned that, most amazingly, you can replant them in your garden and watch them bloom again. Now we buy various varieties in early October, which my husband plants in pots straight away in order to have at least one amaryllis in bloom when it’s time to slide our wrapped gifts underneath its multiple blossoms. 
I had been searching my whole life for a sustainable alternative to the Christmas tree, since I couldn’t bear the thought of cutting down a living tree for a temporary decoration. I must admit that I now have an inflatable tree with inflatable ornaments, but, although reusable, it’s hardly sustainable. When I visit friends who display Christmas trees, I marvel at how beautiful they are. Even so, I just can’t do it. By contrast, the Christmas amaryllis keeps on giving. And with 1600 species to try out, I’ll never grow bored.
 
What’s more, the Christmas amaryllis is a thing of mystery. You never know how many blossoms there will be. Usually, there are four at a time, but sometimes there are more and sometimes less. Its very unpredictability makes it the perfect pet plant. Like the star leading the Wise Men to the baby Jesus, you cannot take your eyes off this plant. 
In her article “The Ugliest Thing I Ever Planted,” Christie Purifoy claims that she never would have bothered to grow one had she only ever known the bulb. I can think of even uglier bulbs. Most exciting, however, is the chance to witness the amaryllis’s metamorphosis. Educators consider it the perfect plant to show children just how much plants grow and change. The internet is full of testimonies remarking how growing amaryllises is worth the wait.        
 
Most important, however is finding new traditions that make sense for the season, so that we can minimize our dependence on fossil fuels and lower our carbon footprint. No doubt, amaryllis bulbs come from South Africa, the Netherlands or South America, but it takes less energy to ship bulbs than it does to truck trees from nearby nurseries.  
The Winter Arts
John Tallmadge writes:
As a kid always I loved winter, even in its mild New Jersey form. But I still longed to live up north in New England, where the plows came out even before the snow stopped falling. Farther west, in California and Utah, I had to go into the mountains to find winter. In the Wind Rivers and High Sierra, the snowpack lingered into July, but after the chill, visionary summits you could always drop back into warm sunlit lowlands.
 
Minnesota was different. In October, darkness and cold arrived together, and by Christmas the mercury would drop to 20 below. At that temperature snow ceased to feel like a form of water and became an alien, mineral substance that squeaked underfoot like Styrofoam and blew across empty fields like sand, abrading exposed cheeks. At night the air was so brittle and clear you could make out the colors of stars. The whole state felt like the elemental world of the high peaks, where all things are reduced to their fundamental expression.
 
How did people survive? They watched the green world shut down—leaves blazed and dropped, the flowers clenched and withered into seed, the vegetables wilted and puckered. Some braved the cold by hunting or skiing. Others retreated indoors to practice the winter arts of making clothes, preserving food, reading, writing, and telling stories to kindle memories, dreams, and reflections.
 
Likewise, the pandemic has driven many of us indoors. Its invisible hostility surrounds us like winter cold. We can’t escape it, we have to resist it—not by going into hibernation but by hunkering down, not by nodding off but by waking up. We have to stay in touch, even if we can't touch, and we have to practice those winter arts. Then, even as our social circles shrink, they may also deepen. In this way, the pandemic can become one of our teachers. It can help us rediscover what works, and what really matters. 
Musical Notes

The Snowflake
 
Rick Sowash writes:

Please let me share a tiny, wintry song — 63 seconds — about a tiny, wintry thing. “The Snowflake” is the third in my five-song cycle, “Silvery Songs,” settings of poems by Walter De La Mare, for mezzo soprano, flute and piano.
But to set the mood, first, read Thoreau’s beautiful thoughts on snowflakes recorded in his Journal (5 January 1856):
“The thin snow now driving from the north and lodging on my coat consists of beautiful star crystals, … perfect little wheels with six spokes, … six perfect little leaflets, fern-like. How full of creative genius is the air in which these are generated! I should hardly admire more if real stars fell and lodged on my coat. Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; not so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand. …What a world we live in! where myriads of these little disks, so beautiful to the most prying eye, are whirled down on every traveller’s coat, the observant and the unobservant, and on the restless squirrel’s fur, and on the far-stretching fields and forests, the wooded dells, the mountain-tops.  Far, far away from the haunts of man, they roll down some little slope, … ready to swell some little rill. … There they lie, like the wreck of chariot-wheels after a battle in the skies. Meanwhile the meadow mouse shoves them aside in his gallery, the schoolboy casts them in his snowball, the woodman’s sled glides smoothly over them, these glorious spangles, the sweeping of heaven’s floor.”
In his lively, leaping, impassioned phrases, Thoreau conjoins the humble and the exalted, pushing prose to the brink of poetry.
Now, see Walter De La Mare’s hushed, minimalistic poem:

The Snowflake 
Before I melt,
Come, look at me!
This lovely icy filigree!
Of a great forest
In one night
I make a wilderness 
Of white.
By skyey cold
Of crystals made,
All softly, on
Your finger laid,
I pause, that you
My beauty see:
Breathe, and I vanish
Instantly.
To hear “The Snowflake" from Silvery Songs, click here:
To see a PDF of the score, click here:
Speaking of Books
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
 by Katherine May
 
Pam Bach writes:
“We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones.” In the autumn of her 40th year, Katherine May experienced one challenge after another: her husband hospitalized with complications from appendicitis, her own illness enduring a lengthy diagnosis after several unsuccessful treatments, loss of her academic position and finally pulling her 6 year old out of school because of bullying.
 
Through these difficulties, she found strength through many sources: friendships and their struggles, a supportive group of parents, nature walks, and a practice of prayer. May describes prayer as “earthwise…the space between words..that happens silently and a moment when [one] is most connected with others.”
She describes traversing the English coast of her homeland, sharing her encounters with nature and the seasonal cycle. We meet a shepard and wolf consultant, a bee keeper in the midst of combining hives, and several year-round sea swimmers. At each new passage, she explores the subject area, weaving in a historical context, with snippets of literature, mythology, or science.

May explores cultural and holiday traditions. For her son she breaks with her adament view of not celebrating Halloween. She drops in at a church service honoring Santa Lucia, She spends the winter solstice at Stonehenge with a friend and their children. And she travels to the Arctic, taking in the northern lights and meeting the Sami people.

As winter progresses, May finds relief from her continuing anxiety and self-doubt by plunging into the ocean at high tide. We learn that cold water swimming increases dopamine, relieves her tension and provides a bond with a friend.
 
This little book covers a wide range of topics, reiminding me of Maxwell Gladwells’ books, but May’s is unified through her personal journey of learning. She is able to connect her wanderings even while casting a wide net. As winter subsides, May realizes that she has come to a “radical acceptance of the endless, unpredictable change that is the very essence of this life.”
 
May’s writing spoke to me last winter during our retreat imposed by the pandemic. It offered me time to reflect on the passage of winter in my northern homeland of Minnesota as well as my challenges of early motherhood while my own mother was slipping away into dementia. Like May I have found solace in difficult times by seeking the support of friends, awakening my senses in nature, and understanding that I am strengthed by enduring an uncomfortable life passage.

 
Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Diane Smith writes:

Since the Earth Care team has decided to move this publication to a seasonal newsletter, I’d like to discuss a favorite illuminated manuscript that reflects the seasonal changes and activities. 

The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry is the most famous illuminated manuscript produced during the late phase of the International Gothic Style. Between 1412 and 1416 the Duke hired three renowned Belgian illuminators, the Limbourg brothers, to make him a breviary. He had already commissioned many works of art, and his extravagant lifestyle is reflected in several of the monthly calendars.

The book was left unfinished because the Limbourgs, along with many other artists and patrons, had succumbed to the plague. Many other artists, including the famous French illuminator, Jean Colombe, worked to complete the manuscript, which consists of,12” by 8 1/2” images painted on vellum, a fine quality calfskin.

A breviary consists of a number of prayers and readings, generally meant to be read aloud in church by clergy. The book of hours is a simplified form of breviary designed for use by the laity who wished to say prayers at the canonical hours of the liturgical day. The regular rhythm of reading led to the term book of hours. These books became favorite possessions of the northern aristocracy during the 14th and 15th centuries. It should be noted that the lower classes could not read.

This book of hours follows the twelve months of the year and the illuminations depict associated seasonal tasks, alternating the occupations of the nobility and peasantry. Above each picture is a lunette that represents the chariot of the sun as it makes its yearly round through the twelve months and signs of the zodiac. The very colorful image comes first, followed by the readings.  
This was innovative on the Limbourgs’ part: up to this time a monthly image and text had all been placed on one page. The Limbourgs emphasized the pictorial seasonal task, and their followers continued that approach. Even today we are all familiar with the analog wall calendar, which emphasizes a lovely picture representing the month. Churches often put together a calendar for their parishioners that include saint’s days, readings, prayers, and other devotional exercises.

I’ve chosen 4 months that represent the 4 seasons. February (winter), May (spring), July (summer), and September (fall). Please look these images up online and zoom in so you can see all the details: May (a procession of the aristocracy in all their refinery), July (shearing the sheep and harvesting the wheat) and September (harvesting the grapes). Often times the background of the castle depicts lands that belonged to the Duke of Berry. It has been suggested that at least two artists worked on each image, one doing the architectural background and one doing the figures in the foreground.
I’ll only speak to February since this issue deals with winter, but I like all of these months because of the details of the peasant’s or noble’s life. In February it is the cold and snow that are showcased. The two women and one man on the left are warming their parts that exist under their clothing. Outside one person walks with a thin shawl, another chops wood, and another takes the wood to the town seen in the distance.

All of the figures have very little clothes on, emphasizing the coldness. The sheep are huddled together under a building with a hole in the roof, the birds have found some grain, the beehives in the back have snow on them, the dovecot sits silently on the right. It is clear that artists at this time did not understand three point perspective. There is a flatness to the image. Much of the activity is pushed to the foreground, and the middle and background are stacked on top of the foreground.

I imagine that most of us don’t look forward to winter. Spring and fall often are our favorites in the Midwest. But Winter can be a time for turning inward, taking stock of ourselves, healing, meditating, and planning. We can be inspired and instructed by art, but it’s up to us to take advantage of what winter offers us.
The Last Word
Five Winter Poems by Bucky Ignatius
 
Fleeting
 
Clean snow whispers
through the window,
calls pen to garden.
 
Crystals stipple
hands, paper;
cold, wet.
 
Snowflake stories
easy to catch,
hard to hold.
 
Words, purpose
melt into
inkwash blur.

 
Two Haiku
 
goldfinches dressed down
in winter khaki unwrap
Christmas thistle seeds
 
            *
 
writing by firelight
paper scorched, pantlegs smoking
poem not so hot
Adrift
 
Strange
how deep snow
makes us aware
were all in this
together, when
deep space
doesnt.

 
Portrait of Roxanne, 1995
 
Little woman not yet twelve
a fresh anachronism curled
cozy in flannels under
a thick wool lap-blanket
made before cars had heat
reading Little Women
through gold-rimmed glasses
in the stillness of weekend
snow, silence broken only
by pages turning. 
Thanks to all our contributors for this issue! If you’d like to write for us, please contact your faithful editors, Julie Malkin (mlkjulia458@gmail.com) and John Tallmadge (jatallmadge@gmail.com).