Beneath the Winter

There is a time, in February or March, when the winds turn warm and the sun dispels the gray. The snow recedes. A glimmer of hope, a hesitant smile. Is it finally over? Put the boots and heavy coats away. Throw open the windows. But the gray gates slam shut again and the wind howls with laughter. Soggy snowflakes bury the earth. There is always snow on the Day of Fools. The Spring of Deception, this phenomenon is called. I fall for it every time. Maybe I’m a fool, but at least my heart is still capable of hope. 

But this year is different. It doesn’t matter that it won’t last. The obligatory snow of April Fool’s is a mere dusting. The warmth persists. I fill my lungs with the rich aroma of thawing earth. We deserve this.

A lot goes on in these woods, but I keep most of it to myself. The ravens, especially, always lead me into deeper territory. Springtime’s blossoms and birdsong overshadow the death that also abounds this time of year. That which reawakens is disoriented. So easy to stagger into the path of disaster. And the new life, the babies. So sweet and fragile. One mistake and the life that could have been is finished.

Then there are the bones that resurface, a reminder that it takes a very long time for some things to disintegrate into dust.

What lies beneath my winter? I do not avert my eyes, no matter how uncomfortable the revelation. The intricacies of self-sabotage are revealed. It feels as though I’m standing on the precipice of happiness. But there has been so much disappointment, so much deception. When we ask/hope/wish, are we not relying on an external force to deliver? Maybe the person in the mirror is the one who holds the key. I’m tired of punishing myself for some long-buried, unfairly-assumed childhood shame. But maybe I don’t really want some of the things that continue to elude me. Perhaps, somewhere underneath, I know it’s for my own good. There is no time left to squander. As if there ever was. Be very, very clear on what you want and give yourself permission to have it. I peer into this blurry reflection in the snow-swollen current. Who we are is ever-changing. Momentary glimpses are swept away. 

In northern Michigan, true spring hesitates, in love with its own slumber. A gradual awakening, excruciating languor. Patience, patience. That which takes the most time to come into being is the most profound. Cherish the sweet unfolding. 

Each day brings a new surprise – another songbird’s voice, new buds emerge, and, finally, wildflowers. Marsh marigolds first, then violets. The drowsy flight of butterflies and bumblebees. Awaken, sleepyheads. The bewildered emergence of the little furry ones. They stare at me with curiosity, and then skitter away, remembering that my kind is to be feared.

The early petals wither while new blooms unfurl. Each one more flamboyant than the last. 

And, finally, the White Queens return and the woods become Wonderland. Soon it will be summer.

The freshest green of leaves about to burst from their buds is the most delightful color of all. A warm rain, a new morning. And everything that brought you to this stage of becoming is already a memory.

It was two years ago, I believe. During morel time. I had fled to my favorite place on the river. A place I savor every spring. By June the stinging nettle and thistle form an impenetrable barrier, barring my access until winter. Across the meadow and through the forest. Along the low bluffs. I startled a fawn that had been sleeping in a patch of tall grass. It scampered into the woods, bawling. I looked down at the ground, a wrench in my heart. A pair of ravens called back and forth to each other from the treetops, one on each side of the river.

And then I saw them, just under my feet. Out in the open, on the river bank, poking up through cedar needles and moss. There are strategies for hunting these culinary treasures. Look around fruit trees after the first warm rain, they say. And so on. But, in reality, morels grow wherever they please. They spilled out of my sweatshirt as I gathered them up. The turmoil of earlier that day lost all of its power. The ravens’ voices became more urgent. I paused and peered into the trees. The tone was unfamiliar, so full of despair. Something was happening. Were they angry with me? More gathered in the skies, circling and calling. I cradled the morels in my arms and headed towards home. I passed through a copse of poplars, scaring up about a dozen ravens that had been sitting in silence in the canopy. Waiting. I froze as the shadows flew over my head. 

When I crossed the meadow, I understood. On the far side, a raven swooped and fell to the earth. Another called down to it. It mustered the strength to lift off. Two smaller birds flew at it in attack. It dipped and nearly fell again. Two ravens ran the other birds off. They coaxed their injured one into the woods. Dozens of others followed. A grim procession.

I paused in the middle of the meadow and bowed my head in respect. When a raven is dying, its family gathers around it, keeping it company until it passes through the doorway to Home. It will not leave this Earth alone. I could have lingered or tried to capture it on film, but I’d always respected their wishes to not be photographed. As if I could if I tried. I headed up the trail, haunted and humbled. The requiem receded. My ears hummed in its absence. The world of humans loomed ahead. I took a deep breath. Yes, I often falter, but I somehow manage to take flight.

“It was good to finally know that the spirit is everywhere rather than a separate thing. I’ve been lucky to spend a life pretty close to the earth up here in the north. I learned in those three days that the earth is so much more than I ever thought it was. It was a gift indeed to see all sides of everything at once. This makes it real hard to say good-bye. My family will be with me just like that old raven falling slowly down through the tree.”

– Jim Harrison, Returning to Earth

92 thoughts on “Beneath the Winter

  1. Fine words and images to welcome the awakening year. We have just experienced a “Blackthorn Winter” – a description I had never heard before until a Blip virtual friend described it:

    “It’s a saying used by country people and particularly growers. It is a period of very cold, frosty and sometimes snowy weather which can occur around the end of March and the beginning of April at the time the blackthorn is in bloom. This black-barked tree with sharp thorns which bears sloes, blooms a bit later than our native cherries and cherry plums.”

    This seems to align with the Day of Fools/Spring of Deception.

    Hope you have a good year, Julie – I resist calling it a better year – there have been some aspects of being locked down that I have enjoyed. All the best, R

    • This micro season must be to spring what Indian summer is to autumn. One last hurrah.🙂 I wish you a fabulous year, too, Robin.

  2. Your words …. I cried, Julie. I understand the secrets of the forest, of Mother, and many are not heard from my lips. And yes, dear friend, it is time for us to quit stopping ourselves from our Golden Rewards we so richly deserve. It all begins with us …. a letting go of the phantoms of the past that scream we are not deserving. Yes we are. To step into the knowing, that assurance then all we dream of and that we desire is ours, unfolds effortlessly. Goodbye shame. Goodbye fear. Goodbye insecurity. Hello LOVE. Beautiful post ….. one I understand explicitly. Much love to you this day!!! Soar high, Dear One. Be free and soar! xoxoxoxoxo

    • The more time we spend with her, the more she speaks to us. And she never fails to soothe, no matter how deep the despair. Yes, the time of love is here, finally, sprouting out of the awakening Earth. And those of us who have worked so hard are in bloom. 💖

  3. Thank you for these thoughtful and soulful musings on spring, living in tune with nature, and the fickle and sometimes harsh mix of seasons. I hadn’t heard the expression Day of Fools/ Spring Deception but it seems very fitting. I really enjoyed this post Julie. 🧡

  4. There was an old cartoon, I feel it from 40’s, is time for Spring at last and the meadows are blossoming; Winter nevertheless appears underground and his forces of little creatures take the machines the dwarves of Spring are using to energize the world, they push in the opposite and win for a moment, there is snow and the meadows are blanketed in white again. But just a moment and Spring comes back, I think now it is Day of Fools :O
    When child I read a scientific article about Buddhism, it said that eliminating the desires we eliminate unhappiness. Although I followed it because those were very tough years now I believe unhappiness makes happiness brighter, wanting and even stopping to want is worth it. I read much more behind your words, different from what I experienced, so my words aren’t a suggestion. It would be like seeing a tree and to think we can deduce a map of its roots. Thank you for sharing a part of the culture of ravens, I believe animals have their codes and ways, which is a reason why I enjoyed much to read Tarzan 😀 A smile traveling to you from the domains of lord Autumn, Julie, hope the dwarves of Spring give you bright days : )

    • I’ve been thinking a lot about the Buddhist idea of non-attachment. It’s a grand idea that has merit and can be helpful during difficult times. But I’ve just realized that there’s nothing wrong with wanting something. I’ve stopped trying to be Buddha. I’m tired of “growth”. It’s time to allow myself to have what I deserve.

      You are always welcome to read my words however they can be of use to you, dear Francis. May Lord Autumn take you under his wing, amigo.

  5. I know that I have said this before about your posts, Julie – but I will say it again: this is the third time reading this post. With a poet’s pen, you capture the essence of the spring awakening and rebirth. I LOVED your video. “Each day brings a new surprise – another songbird’s voice, new buds emerge, and finally wildflowers.” And yet, there is passing, a farewell and a reminder that we have only a short visit in this existence. We belong to the earth and the earth will reclaim us. Somehow I am not afraid. Sending hugs and love your way.

    • Thank you so very much, Rebecca. Sitting in a forest filled with trilliums, while a warm breeze blows, is one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had. I could feel their presence so strongly. I am not afraid to let the Earth reclaim me, either. 💚

  6. Julie I absolutely loved your post. Beautiful imagery, words and sentiments that echo my own closeness and connection to nature. May we all know and embrace love this year, with every fibre of our being. Much love and warmest wishes to you. xx 💚🌻🌳

  7. I enjoy your writing so much. This post was special: evocative of T. S. Eliot’s “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with Spring rain.” I am sighing in appreciation.

    And, the photo of that chipmunk is exquisite!

    Best wishes for a bountiful Spring.

  8. Much as I have enjoyed the lack of deep winter in my new home, I do miss the more marked transition of seasons that we had up north. The cold and gray that settles into one’s spirit during those dark days helps make the returning light and life all the more powerful. As always, I savor your words that depict an attachment to the land and its denizens.

    • I lived in warm sunny places for many years and missed the four seasons. I got bored with sunshine. When we have too much of something we tend to take it for granted. Hope all is beautiful in your world, Lexie.

  9. Hello Julie,
    What can I say that hasn’t already been said? I’ve missed your beautiful photography and thoughtful writing. Happy Spring to you, and hope you continue to stay safe and well.
    Best wishes from Japan,

  10. Hi Julie. Good to see your words on “paper” again. As I am now used to, I copied your text in a word file, to print and read at leisure. Some words I caught here and there. And the photos again. I hope you are well. Contrary to what they said in Game of Thrones: “Spring is coming”.
    Biz. A +, avec commentaires.

    • Salut Brian! Spring is here. 🙂 It is a little cooler now, but at least the snow is gone. Hopefully that will last, haha. We can sometimes have a storm in late April…. Hope you are well, too. Bises.

  11. Ah Spring, the great trickster. It lures you in with promises of new life, only to whack you alongside the head on its way out.

    Life is like Spring. But then, would we be as resilient if it wasn’t, if it was always only new flowers and balmy breezes?

    That forest full of Trillium is magical.

    • You know how it is. Haha. The snow is gone, early for once, but there’s still a chance we could get whacked. Once we’re past mid-May we’re out of the woods.

      I look forward to trillium time, when I can just sit with them for hours. It’s one of the most magical times of the year.
      Happy Spring, Dave!

  12. A refreshing text, full of Spring and dégel. Walks in those woods must be very soothing for the mind. (I am so ready to flee. Anywhere!) 😉
    You got me with morels. had to look it up. Morilles! Bien sûr. You are very brave. I know zip about wild mushrooms and wouldn’t go near one with a ten-foot pole… 🤣
    The bones that resurfaced reminded of the bones in the woods above our house in Normandy. We’d spend days wandering in the woods. Collecting stuff. Skulls. I’d ask my father to tell me what it was. A rabbit; a crow, a pigeon. I ended up with a full box of bones… A nice way to learn anatomy.
    A touching story about the “corbeaux”. Very smart animals.
    And thanks for the introduction to Jim Harrison. I didn’t know him.
    J’espère que tout va bien et que le moral est bon?
    La cabane avance?

    • Salut cher Brian. I am very well, thank you. Just days from being in my cabin. 😁

      I am slowly learning mushroom identification. I’m confident about morels and lions mane, next I’m learning about chanterelles and chicken of the forest. 🙂
      It’s such a joy to be able to find such treasure. I find bones, feathers, stones, and other gifts out there, too. I spend as much time as possible in the woods, “alone”. I’m never alone, just away from humans.🙂

      Jim Harrison is another Michigan treasure. He was actually very respected in France.

      I hope that you will be able to travel soon. Bises.

  13. A beautiful ode to the changing of the seasons, both inner and outer.
    This sentence struck me: “I’m tired of punishing myself for some long-buried, unfairly-assumed childhood shame.” Yes me too, but have finally grown even more tired of trying to change or fix it. It is what it is. I watch it now, stalk it even, daring it to upset me.
    And this sentence: “The freshest green of leaves about to burst from their buds is the most delightful color of all.” It’s my favourite spring colour too. I especially notice it as it emerges on the weeping willows. It lasts such a short time that I’m careful every year to watch out for its first appearance, and pay attention every day until it has changed to the darker hue of summer.
    A lovely post Julie.

    • Thank you, Alison. I believe that trying to fix ourselves is part of the punishment, if that makes sense. And that idea has made a lot of self- help gurus very rich. While I’ve never been able to follow a guru, I’ve stopped trying to “be the best I can be”, too. 🙂 I’m more than good enough. As I am. Now.

      Wishing you a delightful spring!

  14. As always, I enjoy reading about your experience and bond with Nature. It’s very refreshing, Julie.

    “But maybe I don’t really want some of the things that continue to elude me. Perhaps, somewhere underneath, I know it’s for my own good. … Be very, very clear on what you want and give yourself permission to have it.” This passage truly reverberates with me at the moment. Thank you.

    • I get so many insights while I’m out in Nature. That one about giving ourselves permission, and being able to discern if we truly want what we think we want, hit me hard. As a result, much has changed for the better. I’m very glad to know that it resonated with you, my friend. Hope you are well.

  15. Your opening shot, Julie, is a place I think I could spend hours daily just taking in all the world has to offer 🙂 Amazing. Beautifully written post, the hope not only spring brings us, but in this point in time the possibilities of what lies ahead in this new world we are facing. And it is always valuable when taking it all in, “One mistake and the life that could have been is finished…” a thought that adds to both the excitement and value of this life we live knowing there is no time to squander the short time we have.

    The magic of your Michigan spring clearly holds your heart, and it appears to be a perfect match for you ~ the sight of the bright white of trillium blossoms you’ve captured brings a smile to me this morning, as it is the very sign of spring we long to see in Oregon. Of course, since seeing those flowers in March back home, I’ve returned to Czech where a dusting of snow yesterday morning now has a name, the Spring of Deception is strong this year 🙂 Wishing you more glorious walks in Raven’s Wood, taking in the beauty of your life. Cheers ~

    • Thank you so very much, Randall. Sorry to hear that you’ve experienced the dreaded Spring of Deception. I don’t remember that happening during my time there. But you’ve seen the trillium before I have. 🙂 They don’t appear here until mid to late may. We are on time here, for a change. The previous years, we still had a foot of snow on the ground at this time. Although I shouldn’t say anything, or I may jinx it. I do live in paradise, no matter what season. That place in the first photo is a new spot I just found not too far from where I live. There’s still so much to discover here.

      I hope you are well and happy, my friend, and that your trip home to Oregon was refreshing. May the sunshine return to your world soon. Please drink a pivo (preferably from a monastery) for me. 🙂 Na Zdravie!

      • Funny how that worked out ~ I saw the trillium before you did, but have been entombed with winter weather the past couple weeks here in Czech 🙂 2021 has been a brilliantly strange year already. It is good that you are discovering new areas around your place… the great thing being you’ll be doing this for many years to come. The great thing about nature is there is something new around every corner.

        I’ll have a pivo or two for you, although things are still pretty much shut down over here there is quite a bit of optimism right now. Na Zdravie 🍻 and enjoy your week ahead.

        • Two weeks?! That blows. When spring finally arrives it will be magnificent. And your bike rides will be even more special. 🙂

  16. Julie…. your post was like walking through an enchanted forest filled with the magic of nature, Your narrative took me both on your inner and outer journey and that of the Raven and the community of spirit that all of us should revere and respect…. Thank you for that beautiful little video too.. Showing us those dancing heads….
    Your words are so lyrical like a Song, they washed over me and through me bringing wonder and that sense of peace we are all one in natures realm..

    Your words here spoke deeply to my heart Julie..
    ” I’m tired of punishing myself for some long-buried, unfairly-assumed childhood shame. But maybe I don’t really want some of the things that continue to elude me. Perhaps, somewhere underneath, I know it’s for my own good. There is no time left to squander. As if there ever was. Be very, very clear on what you want and give yourself permission to have it.”……..

    Agreed…. many now are having to face themselves in the mirror as those long deeply held emotions come up to the surface…. We may make impromptu wishes…. So your words at the end of that paragraph a timely reminder that we best be very careful what we wish for… People have no concept of their inner power of their own minds. Or how it creates that which is focused upon within their intentions..

    Funny Julie I was on the look out for any new posts from yourself and still I missed it…. But the wait was well worth it for me… For it was another timely reminder for me… As your final words spoke…..
    “I paused in the middle of the meadow and bowed my head in respect. When a raven is dying, its family gathers around it, keeping it company until it passes through the doorway to Home. It will not leave this Earth alone.”……..

    Agreed… No one leaves this Earth alone….. And we all have a time to be born and a time to pass from this realm to the next… Spring is a reminder of renewal, rebirth after a time of sleep and death…. The New Earth is about to be born, but before it is, there will be many casualties who have elected to pass from this realm… They have chosen their pathway…. as we have chosen ours..
    I bow my head in respect to their choices….

    Lots of love dear Julie… Much love and respect to you my dear Friend ❤ ❤ ,3

    • Spring is such a complex season. There is the enchantment of rebirth, but there is also death, if one is not careful. But is one better than the other? Discernment is so crucial. And, as you said, beware of impromptu wishes that are driven by very old wounds. There is no time left to squander.

      I’m so delighted that you enjoyed the video. Those flowers are such characters. I don’t know why, but I feel their presence more strongly than others.

      What an incredible time it is right now, on a personal and collective level. We’ve come so far in such a short time. It’s an honor to know you, my friend. Lots of love back at you, dear Sue. ❤

      • Exactly it’s why we came, to clear, create, and cooperate as a Collective! Gathering up our true selves as we let go of our indoctrinations.
        The pleasure is a two way street dear Julie.

  17. I don’t know how to express this..but reading your post felt soothing, a little dark mid-way then exuberant then sullen again. So many emotions… it got me hooked I read till the end. You have a knack of weaving words in a soul-stirring way.

  18. Once, when I was watching the Lighthouse up at Big Sable I saw something odd in the distance to the south, It was one of those Great Lakes bright fog days and that can make things appear distorted. So I walked south and came upon a circle a Ravens. They were gathered around a dead Raven in the wrack line along the beach.

    This post was beautifully written.

  19. Your writing turns everything into the sacred, Julie, evoking a sense of poignancy and belonging and spirit. I always feel that I’ve joined you in some way that feels universal in experience. Spring is always late to arrive on my little mountain, but it comes and its always magical. It’s still dark outside right now, but there’s a glimmer of dawn and the early birds are singing. Have a beautiful day.

  20. Such gems have surfaced here. Thank you for sharing them, Julie. The paragraph you gave us about recognizing what we truly want, and stopping the self-deception we do that keeps us thinking we want something we truly may not, reached right into me. And of course the acceptance of the beauty and truth we already are… no more getting better… no more following some sequence of steps we’ve laid out for ourselves to hone our goodness. We just let it come. We breathe it in. It finds us where we are. In this sacred way of listening we allow our lives to heal and bloom…

    Many blessings on your travels…


    • Hello, dear Michael. Yes, the time of “self-improvement” is coming to an end. It’s a phase we had to pass through, but it has served its purpose. We have reached true springtime. Finally. Time to bask in the sunshine and smell the blossoms. Hope all is beautiful in your world, my friend.

  21. I’ve just spent the past half hour reading your older posts… would love to comment on some but they seem to be closed. I thoroughly enjoyed your memoir of your raver days, those were the good old days! I’ll definitely follow you as I love to read and your writing is wonderful! Cheers!

      • Obviously being so late to the party I can’t post on some of your older writings. I loved your post on Zagreb and am so glad you stopped and explored there. It’s definitely an underrated city but I absolutely loved it and always spend a few days there before continuing on to family on the coast.

        • Thanks for reading some of the archives. It will be 10 years in June since I visited Croatia. Never made it to the coast. But I’ve always preferred more off the beaten path places.

  22. Exquisite Julie. You’ve captured the joy of spring and its dark undertone of death in a beautiful way. And how honoured you must have been to experience a little of the ravens’ mourning.

  23. It was a real pleasure Julie, to read and feel your short story about spring or hope, which is not always the same. I very much loved the passage about the morels, because it took me back to my childhood and my collecting mushrooms, morels included, with my dear grandfather and I didn’t know that about the ravens mourning behaviour! I hope you are well and send you my very best regards:)

  24. Oh yes – that hope and jubilation with the first glimpse of spring, I always fall for it, delude myself that it will last and here we go. Then the frosts returns to laugh at my optimism. Every time, it says to me. The funny thing thing is I also love the first frost of winter. I like the turn of the seasons, but of course for for nature it’s yet another challenge to survive. The blackbirds spent weeks building a beautiful nest in the bush outside my kitchen window. But now it’s abandoned. What happened?

    Great writing as always. Love the picture of the bones.

    • Hi Alex- I like the turn of seasons, too. A shift into a new state of mind. The retreat of winter, the hope of spring, the expansiveness of summer and then the melancholy of autumn. Last spring I watched a pair of blue jays build a nest and it was also abandoned after the weather turned cold again. Maybe they have to time it just right to start their family.

  25. A beautiful post on spring’s emergence, Julie. Your photos are terrific. I was especially drawn to the bones and skull and the lovely image of the fresh green leaves on the trees. I hope you have been enjoying your springtime freedom.

    • Thanks so much, Jane. It has been a lovely spring. It’s almost summer now and a whole new mood is setting in. Have a wonderful holiday weekend.

  26. Beautiful words, and lovely description of your wonderings, bring back memories of my favorite time of the year, early Spring, and early Autumn, it invigorates us, and make you feel alive, and connected to our wonderful Mother Earth, and Father Sky.

    Best wishes to you wherever you are. 😊

    • Thank you, kind sir. 🙂 The change of seasons is indeed enlivening. Spring is shifting to summer now, not as noticeable.

  27. Pingback: Season 3 Episode 30: Julie Riso on Awakening to Nature – Tea Toast & Trivia

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