we need to maintain contact with the beauty of nature during the dead of winter


“The aesthetic value of creation cannot be overlooked. Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power” (Saint Pope John Paul II)

I was out on Paint Creek Trail today, walking at a fairly brisk pace, although I stopped for a few minutes to look at the adjacent river at a point where a small rapids is created by fallen trees and other circumstances. It was somewhat cold out, around thirty-two degrees, but it wasn’t windy, but it was overcast and somewhat dreary. At one point I saw a few white-tailed deer who scampered away when they heard me coming. Suddenly, on the walk back, it began to snow! It was a beautiful, fluffy kind of snow and as I looked down the trail I could see the ubiquitous snowflakes falling gently to the ground in a panoramic, picture-like splendor! At that moment the mundane was turned into the beautiful and the ordinary into something extraordinary. I should have cried out, like Whitman, “All seems beautiful to me.” Feeling good about the moment, I even took a very rare selfie of myself!

Once again, winter is upon us here in Michigan. The trees are leafless and the amount of sunlight has drastically declined. By dinner time it seems that we are already engulfed in physical darkness. And as it gets colder it seems as if we spend most of our time indoors. Under all of these circumstances it probably is not that unusual that some of us begin to experience a type of mild depression or malaise known as “seasonal affective disorder” (a/k/a the winter blahs).

I believe it is important and helpful under these circumstances to maintain contact with the beauty of nature, and that such contact with God’s creation enhances our mental well-being and outlook.  Father Irala, in his popular book, Achieving Peace of Heart, tells us that “we must live beauty.” He maintains that we need to be “reeducated” to “receive the external world.” This priest tells us that we need to learn to let “beauty enter deep into us.” Please refer to my previous post:

Contact With Nature is Very Healing and Very Necessary …

It just so happens that a few days ago I came across a copy of Norman Vincent Peale’s famous book, The Power of Positive Thinking. In Chapter Three of that book Peale tells the story of a very popular university professor who was experiencing  radical burnout. Ultimately, a solution was designed by a member of the board of trustees to send this professor on a six month sabbatical out into the wilderness where he would live in a simple cabin and spend his time walking, fishing, doing some manual labor, and reading the Bible every day. Peale relates that the professor discovered that “outdoor living… had an immense appeal for him,” and that daily Bible reading helped him to find “faith, peace and power.” In six months, says Peale, the professor “was a new man” and a person of “compelling power.” In other words, contact with nature, and contact with the word of God, are very essential to our well-being!

Now maintaining this essential and curative contact with nature is fairly easy in spring, summer and fall, but how do we carry it out in the dead of winter? Some people head down to Florida for a while!, but many of us have to endure the cold and dark winter season.

My basic recommendation is that we should become highly cognizant of the fact that we need to maintain contact with the beauty of nature during the dead of winter. Some people ski, or snow-mobile, or do other outside activities that place them directly in the beauty of winter. But many of us look at winter as something to endure, to get through, until finally the weather becomes more bearable. If, like me, you fall into this latter category, then you run the risk of being cut off from the mental well-being contact with nature provides. Thus, it is essential that we hibernating types take positive steps to maintain contact with nature during the winter months. Here are some ideas that may help.

The other day (here I am reflecting back a few years back) it was dark and only 12 degrees Fahrenheit as I stepped outside at 6 am to get into my car, but I stuck to a ritual I have of momentarily looking up at the sky to glance at the stars. I probably spent less than 25 seconds looking up at the beauty of the firmament (yes, some days there are no stars, but most days there are!), and I then said a short prayer praising God for His Infinite Beauty, and then I got into my car and turned the heat on! But there you go: even though it was very cold I made some minimal contact with the beauty of God’s creation.

Another ritual I utilize in the winter is to open the top half of an upstairs window and to peer out meditatively – as the cold air brushes up against my face – at the sky, or at an evergreen covered with snow, or merely at the breadth of the world outside as it presents itself. The point is that this simple exercise assures me of some contact with the beauty of nature in a palpable, less attenuated, manner. Keep in  mind that the sky is an eminent (though frequently overlooked) source of beauty. Today (here again I am reflecting back) the sun was out, along with a beautiful blue sky and billowing white clouds. The sky – even in winter – can be a source of profound beauty, a reflection of God’s grandeur (and yes, I realize that there are many days when the sky is dreary and depressing, so we must take advantage of the good days!). And since the winter blues seem directly related to a lack of sunlight, be sure to get outside when the sun is shining! Sunshine makes us happy.

But most importantly (even if the sun isn’t shining): get outside! Snow is very beautiful. Look at the snow. Study its beauty. As Father Irala says, train yourself to receive in the influx of nature’s beauty. If you walk a trail in summer, why not give it a try in winter (assuming it can be safely done; I forego walking trails that are icy, preferring a crunchy kind of snow for walking, and good boots)! And when the snow falls and lands like countless ice-cycles on the barren trees, making them shine like a festival of heavenly lights, you can say in those immortal words of the poet: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

Glory be to God for winter!

Tom Mulcahy

P.S. Here is a very helpful link:

5 Reasons to Spend More Time Outside — Even When It’s Cold

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