Slowing down in the winter

What the forest teaches us about the season of slowing down

Spring and summer are the busiest seasons for the forest and human realm. Warmer weather and longer days bring us out of our slumber and kick us all into action mode. It’s go time. We cram in as much as possible and soak up every bit of sun. Trees are no different.

The spring and summer seasons are exhausting for trees, and they are ready for a well-earned rest at the end of summer.

In the Spring and Summer, trees fuel themselves with the energy from the sun and use that energy to make sugar and other compounds they can hold in reserve. Trees store these under their “skin,” like a Grizzly bear. Because trees can’t get any fatter, the best they can do is fill their tissues with food. And whereas a Grizzly can go on eating everything they can find, at some point, the storage space under the bark and in the roots of trees are full. Even if trees made more sugar, there would be nowhere to stash it. And so, with full barks and roots, trees are ready to rest until Spring. How can we tell if trees are prepared to sleep until Spring? Their leaves change colours and drop.

Why do leaves change colours in the Fall?

Chlorophyll is a compound found in leaves that a) makes leaves green and b) helps plants absorb energy from the sun through photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is necessary for the growth of plants. At the end of summer, when trees cannot hold any more “food” and water, they are ready for the last task before hibernation: dropping their leaves.

Side note: Dropping leaves is essential to a peaceful slumber. Less surface area means less snow accumulating on trees. When snow and ice rest on a tree, the tree has to support that weight. All it takes is a few back-to-back snow storms to add enough weight to cause large branches to snap (that is very painful for trees!) Thankfully, that doesn’t happen often, but if trees kept their leaves, they’d be at risk of broken branches.

Back to the chlorophyll and the discarding of leaves. So, before dropping their leaves, trees reabsorb the chlorophyll to reuse it in the spring for their new leaves! This a beautiful example of how Nature reuses! Once the tree has reabsorbed the green pigment, we are left with the actual colour of leaves! We see orange, red, and yellow. At this time, the tree closes off the nodes where the leaves are connected to the branches. Now that the leaves are shut off from the tree’s resources, they will fall.

Walking in the forest during winter is an entirely different energy than during the warmer seasons.

A calmness, stillness and quiet resonate deep in our soul. Our soul knows there is a season to go, go go! and a season to slow down and restore. We are in the season of slowing down. We know this is truth because it is the way of Nature. Nature is truth and the mirror of who we truly are. That is why we become more of a homebody when the days become cold and shorter. We curl up with a cup of tea and read. We sleep in; we laze about. The slow, restful energy unique to Winter is activating within us.

I understand there are reasons why slowing down is just not an option for you at this time. Realize that you don’t have to go into full-out tree hibernation mode. But there are ways to live in rhythm with Nature. After all, she’s been around a lot longer than us; we can learn a thing or two from her. I enjoy The Slow Living Guide’s “Four ways to reset your Circadian Rhythm.”

Honouring our inclination to slow down, say no, rest and restore is one of the most extraordinary acts of self-love. Let’s take our cue from the forest. Trees know that to be able to fulfill their most significant potential, they need to rest. Going full throttle every day is not sustainable for the forest and not for humans. There must be a season of respite, reflection and intention. How can we honour this call to slow down? How can we make room for rejuvenating activities in our daily schedules? Let’s lean into this energy that is unique to Winter and see what we discover about ourselves.

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