by Hillary Rain
I will always remember the mornings I woke as a child to find ice crystals on the inside of my bedroom window, the sun shining through, cold and beautiful, like light through etched glass.
Sometimes I scratched my name into it, or a heart, but most often my frozen nose sent me tumbling out of bed, shrieking as feet hit the frigid floor. I headed straight to the living room where I hoped my father had risen before me to load the stove with wood and flame.
We’d hover above it, my sisters and I, scorching our faces while our backsides grew numb with cold, then turn around for the relief of heat crawling up our backs. And then, bowls of oatmeal and molasses to fill our bellies, socks and mittens and scarves layered on, and outside to break the ice in buckets so our goats and chickens could drink.
In a vintage farmhouse, built without modern amenities, one grows intimate with nature. The way winter presses herself deep into the bone, or skin grows damp with humidity and rain. The way January breath holds itself before you when you speak. The falling asleep, shivering, after finding the perfect tent for your nose under a blanket where you are warmish, but can still breathe. Or, in summer, lying as naked as can be, slick with sweat, fighting between mosquitoes and one layer of sheet which was even, sometimes, too much.
Nature is a wild mistress.
In living with the winter elements there is a strange sort of surrender that happens: first, you hate it, because you feel helpless and always, always cold. You might quietly swear that you will never be cold when you’re a grownup and can have the kind of heat which comes through vents like magic. You will have socks without holes and a bedroom where ice doesn’t form on the inside of windows overnight. But then life settles in, the routine of it—day after day like trudging through snow, night after night with sister bodies pressed together for warmth in sleep. You get through it, because that’s what you do. And slowly, without realizing it, a kind of living beauty emerges—distant and bleak at first, but it’s the sort of alchemical beauty that means something because it dwells in unconventional places, just for you.
And when you find it, it stays with you…
While I no longer experience the winter’s chill of my childhood, it has given me a tender empathy for those who dread the cold seasons, the long dark nights of the year or the soul, the razor winds that bite the cheeks. Those who wander streets without shelter, at the mercy of nature and a neighbor’s good will. Those who struggle to find joy in their days without the serotonin of a friendly sun. Those without full, warm bellies and clean, soft beds. My gratitude for the blessings I enjoy is not without a hunger, lingering and urgent, to bring comfort to those intimate with nature in their own way, who have not yet discovered unconventional beauty, perhaps because I have not done all I can to show them.
As I look for ways to do this, I am inspired by one of the happiest countries in the world, Denmark, and their cultural concept called Hygge. Pronounced “hue-gah,” hygge is the art of comfort, especially in dark winter seasons. It is finding enjoyment through simple living and everyday grace. “It’s a way of life that looks at a long, dark, cold winter and says ‘you are to be savored, not just survived.’”—Alison Dunn, @thesanguineskep It is presence with and presence to—gentleness, intimacy, warmth, coziness, comforting rituals, loved ones. Hygge embodies our most sacred dreams of home.