The steep darkness of a silent, cold Winter can only sustain such intense, contraction for so long. As the wheel of the year turns, the density that has folded in upon itself for months must finally cleave its frozen, shadowed bonds and then, here in the Northeastern woodlands, Spring rises from the broken release of natures iced embrace with an offering of warmth for the hearts and souls of the people.
Once upon a time these awakenings were well marked by magic and ritual as our clans and communities knew that if place and time were to be an instrument for conscious creation, it must be held by the storied, dreaming, dance and play of those that waited and watched as new life teemed upon the surface.
The underground realms of the plants and all the rooted ones know the precise moment to lift up as the savory, melting, sap and snow from above send notice to the sleeping currents and call the shoots to stir and the buds to soften. Their rituals have never stopped and their magic remains intact.
Plants that are native or naturalized to cold climates need winter’s cold and frost to condition their seeds. Both annual and perennial plants that reproduce naturally in northern regions require a cold phase in order for their seeds to germinate. All seeds in any climate have a dormant phase when they appear inactive, but are alive, awaiting the right time to venture into the world. The use of the word inactive in this sense is really not a lack of function or unconsciousness, but refers more to a time of receptivity. Our seeds may lay still and inanimate, but are in reality quite alive, undergoing subtle, yet highly transformative, changes. The seed phase is the rest phase of the life of a plant and yet, is a time that is sensitive, receptive, and full of intent, allowing for both internal and external ecological conditions to become ripe for regeneration. The seed actually contains a baby plant that is complete and ready to be born before it even falls to the ground. If it didn’t enter into a dormant phase it might attempt to germinate during the autumn when the freezing air and soils would not be conducive to life. This phase is all about timing and protects the delicate yearnings of the youthful new green being from sprouting before its time. This is actually not at all a time of death and sadness, but a time of careful preparation and attunement to the ecological indicators and necessary sensory skills that will enable this new life to proceed.
The embryo of any plant in this phase resides as a dynamic force of the Earth’s certain and quickening future. Biologically a dormant seed is not inert at all, but just on slow speed as it continues to develop compounds and processes that provide for its hopeful emergence. Winter’s seeds maintain a host of physiological functions including the constant activity of light-sensing proteins, low level respiration, and changing hormone ratios that must sustain, stay aware, and even increase as needed to be at the correct level when outside conditions are right for germination. This is a gestation process and a developmental phase of the life of a plant.
People, plants, animals, all of life’s organisms, and the Earth as a whole go through similar developmental and cyclical phases, as we discussed in terms of the Life/Death/Rebirth pattern. Winter and all of the rest/death/retreat phases of life are not times of nothingness, but times of great and profound inner transition with alertness to the relevant and parallel outer world of influences. In this way, all beings go through the wheel of the year and must enter the winter, dark, or dormant phase that provides for the seeded cultivation of the ripened fruit created by the intact accumulation of all the past years proceeds while preparing us for the successful re-entry into the next active phase of light.
A seed is produced by the waning fruit of the earth, is ripened, dropped, gathered, or lifted by the wind, and it is then carried beneath the surface to prepare to meet the new day. People and all sentient beings are bound to this beautiful and creative archetypal pattern. We all must, at times, descend into the Earth and wait, meditate, listen, learn, and gather our wits within the dark, fertile unknown where faith and dreams sit alert to the seasons subtle unfoldings. Winter is such a season, and when we understand its true essence we will be less uncomfortable with the absence of our beloved, brilliant, teeming streams of light, and be more aligned with the great intelligence of natural cycles that give life, but that must include the time of the sleeping seeds. This is when we release our efforts and our own fruiting to the soils and darkness, allowing the time and space for our own brilliance, yearnings, and potentials to mature and prepare for the new sprouts of the spring.
As the seasons turn we do not stay still but dance and whirl as time drops and lifts the breezes. We too shall one day wilt and fall upon the soils. So let’s celebrate!