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Rhythms and Seasons

Autumn is here. It’s my favourite season because I love the constantly changing colours in the landscape. In only a couple of weeks, my very green backyard will be a sea of every shade of orange. It’s not just the colours, the light changes too. As more leaves fall, more light shines through and the landscape changes again! The sun warms the bright oranges, yellows, and reds now on the ground, reflecting the light back up and out. You can see further into the bush and even on a cool day, with the right sweater, it feels warm.

There are little surprises all around! The extra layer of leaves holds more moisture in the ground, when you look closely, every kind of mushroom and fungi appear in the most delightful ways.

Fall hasn’t always been my favourite time of year, mostly because what follows is winter. I didn’t appreciate winter until we moved to Muskoka, I might have even said before that I hate winter. In the past, I struggled in the fall because of the shortening days and lack of sunlight. A number of years ago I was diagnosed with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). For a long time, as everything was ramping up from being on summer vacation, school, church, and other things, I was cycling down, almost as though my body was going through an Autumn season of its own. Everyone else seemed well rested and ready to get back to work, and I was ready to go back to bed. The year I was diagnosed, by the time February came, I was in a full-on winter of my own. As we discovered, my vitamin D levels were well below normal. It’s true, vitamin D really is sunshine in a bottle.

Vitamin D has helped but it isn’t the end-all and be-all. There is something to the natural rhythm of the seasons that I haven’t paid enough attention to. This trip around is different.

Maybe it’s because I grew up on the farm. We didn’t live on a farm but from the age of eight, I spent every minute at a horse farm. My dad grew up on a farm and as the saying goes, you can take the kid from the farm, but you can’t take the farm from the kid. In my formative years, I learned how to grow things and harvest them for the winter. We gathered wood. Cut and stock-piled hay. Had a garden. One of the most significant influences on my childhood was horseback riding - training began in March, competitions started in May, and championships were in September. Then it was time to rest and spend the winter practicing what you learned in the summer. Until recently, I didn't take very seriously that my rhythm of life is and has been significantly influenced by the seasons of the year, Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.

Spring is the time to wake up and get busy planting seeds, summer is to build and grow, fall is the harvest and preparations for winter. In winter, we rest.

It wasn’t until the pandemic happened that I actually entered into a time of rest. But I didn’t choose to rest. If the world wasn’t in lockdown I might have carried on. But the world was in lockdown. And winter up here compared to Barrie is a lot different. In south-central Ontario, you can cheat with winter a little bit. The snow comes, but it melts. It’s rarely -25 C or colder, you can get away without a really warm winter coat or boots, geez when we moved here we didn’t own a snow shovel! This picture is from Nov.25 2020, a bit of a surprise! When the snow comes it stays, and then more is added to it, and then more, and then more. I remember loving our first winter here because there was no choice but to embrace it. Probably for the first time in my life, I actually rested. I remember thinking to myself, it’s easy to say yes to rest when there isn’t anything else to do. It’s easy to say yes to rest when you don’t have to say no to other things.

I don’t take vitamin D to cheat my way through winter, although I think when I first started taking it six or seven years ago for my SAD, I expected it to help me maintain a growing season level of activity through the winter months. I tried. What I took for granted was the rest that comes in the winter is what helps to prepare for the spring. For many years I began spring with less fuel in my tank than I needed. Perhaps sap in my veins is a better analogy since I'm surrounded by trees! We all know deciduous trees enter a dormant phase in the winter. When they drop their leaves in the fall, nutrients move to their roots, and wait and prepare to blossom again in the spring. If that rhythm is interrupted, because of disease or pests, the tree will fail to thrive and that’s what I burn in my wood stove. Dead wood.

What I didn’t know is that trees will absorb water until the water pressure in the tree is equal to the surrounding soil. When air temperatures rise in the spring, the tree is primed and ready to go. It’s flush with water and starts moving nutrients from its roots to the branches, supplying the energy needed to grow new shoots and leaves. Trees literally embody the Truth about rhythms for life. Imagine being so full you literally burst like the blossoms of a Maple tree in the spring! But more subtle is the importance of nurturing those roots. It happens below the surface, under the layers of spring, summer, and fall, all connected and interdependent. After all, what lies within the soil will have an impact on the roots as well.

Aside from reminding myself about the value of rhythms for life and learning new (or perhaps returning to my roots) in this new place and time, I’m also considering what a healthy rhythm looks like for Butterfly Way. We surrender gladly to the seasons which is why we’ve been working so hard to build this year, having bunkies already built and ready for guests next spring is what we’ve been aiming for. So we press on just a little more to get #3 built before winter. How other parts of this ministry take shape, such as Sunday morning gatherings and various plans for future seasons, I can embrace autumn and look forward to winter, free to surrender and respond to whatever the next season brings but also be intentional about nurturing our roots so, in the right time, we're ready to not only grow but blossom!

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