Winter brings a subtle beauty, one that can easily be missed. Do we see muted skies and think, oh no, another overcast, gray day? Or do we embrace the season, opening up and tuning in to what it brings?
I know my own filter can be affected by challenging circumstances. And there are always plenty of those, if not personally, then in the world at large. My lens becomes distorted and darkened. And I don’t mean in a cool, atmospheric fashion.
I’ve found, though, that when I’m struggling most, if I remember to slow down and focus, I start to see what is around me. Beauty in some form is almost always there, waiting to be discovered.
Autumn is my favorite season with its crisping air and riot of colors. And the pretty pastel blossoms of spring are always welcome after monochromatic winter months. Here in the Cévennes, summers burst with bright, festive colors until the burning sun overwhelms them. I would probably put winter at the bottom of my list, yet I’m continually surprised by the understated beauty it brings–if I take the time to notice.
This year I’m especially drawn to the dramatic contrast of bare branches reaching upwards across the sky. It doesn’t matter if the backdrop is the brilliant south-of-France blue or a silvery mist; each highlights a different aspect of the barren trees. In fact, the grayer the day, the browns, ochres, reddish hues can appear to glow in contrast.
Spikey pods dangling in clusters off empty branches add unexpected detail. Smooth twigs and branches crisscrossing along many a wrought-iron fence create texture and pattern. I find myself wanting to scoop them somehow up and bring them home, a winter bouquet of sorts.
Then there are the surprising splashes of color. Coral pink flowers budding, a spray of bright yellow cascading over an old wagon house door, violet irises growing wild on our terraces are all the more delightful for being unexpected.
Having four seasons, each with their different atmosphere, was such a good idea. Thank-you God! Each year there are similarities, of course; we know what to expect in terms of temperature, foliage, and length of days. Yet, they are always slightly different, which gives a sense of discovery each new year. We love consistency, as well as surprises. We need both. Maybe that’s why weather is so often a topic of conversation.
We also anticipate the contrast of one season to another. After the freeze of winter, we appreciate the gentler temperatures of spring all the more. Coming from southern California, I didn’t fully experience this until I lived in the Netherlands. Never had I experienced such cold, dark days and for so many months. When even a hint of spring arrived, I soaked it up and reveled in it like never before.
On the other hand, when we lived in Hawaii, we experienced the opposite. Homes are not heated; there’s no need. "Winter" meant temperatures came down to something agreeable like 72°F (22°C). Sometimes that even felt a bit chilly! But despite the incredible beauty of the islands, most of us sought some sort of seasonal change, even if it meant buying more autumn decorations and pumpkin candles.
However we find it, beauty washes over the soul, bringing refreshment and restoration. After all, it reflects the Creator, giving us just a glimpse of God’s radical beauty. And, scripture says nature groans waiting to be released into the intended fullness of original design. Incredible to think there’s more than what we now see.
La vie est vraiment belle!