Mary Beth Keenan
Wintering as a Tree
“I want to be the tree”, I told my spiritual director in December. I meant this metaphorically, but as someone who finds solace and inspiration in nature, there could have been a real question of if I meant it literally. My creative life had become stagnant. I was burned out from craft fairs, resigned to the delayed timeline of a writing project, and exhausted in body and spirit with an infant that continues to struggle with nighttime sleep.
I have long been conditioned by our capitalistic society to feel the need to justify rest. As a stay-at-home-mom and an artist/writer, I especially feel the need to have visual proof for the time my children are cared for by others. I knew that entering this past winter, it was not going to be a season of productivity, I needed a break. This challenged my sense of purpose and worth. And yet, for the first time I was excited about winter. I was excited for longer nights, bundling myself up to safely venture into the cold, the brown and gray tones of creation, and the crisp, clear night sky. I wanted to be the winter tree.
Trees often look dead in winter. Yet, the winter is when their interior lives are the most rich. They are resting, yes, but they are also collecting resources; stocking up nutrients in their roots, holding onto what they will need to send into their branches for the spring bloom.
This was the tree I wanted to be - the one resting and stocking up inspiration. The one that is not able to show the outside world the value of its time, yet the one that is able to have a vast interior life.
So, that’s what I did. I read. I napped. I watched fashion and baking competition shows. I read. I played with my children. I read. I painted with my toddler, for the sake of painting, instead of trying to create something to sell. I tucked away my own physical art supplies and decorated my home office with friends’ artwork that had not been hung. I read. I soaked in every little good thing, every moment of rest, every family moment I could. And it has been one of the most joyful (least depressed) winters of my life.
It was an extra blessing for my creative and physical season to line up with the season of creation around me. It affirmed my choice and kept me honest in my mission. I believe that our Creative God made places on this Earth with four seasons and a moon with a monthly cycle to guide us. When noticed, these things can offer a reflection of ourselves; an invitation to notice our own ebbs and flows, our own seasons of rest and generativity.
Now the trees around me are showing the nutrients they collected as buds and flowers appear. As colors re-emerge and pollen floats visibly through the air, I am not sure that I am personally ready to launch into a season of blooming. I feel like there are more lessons in wintering as a tree for me to learn, more time to spend in my interior life, before the fruits of my collecting are shown. I am trying to not feel left behind as the natural world enters springtime. I am trying to sit in the peace of being a tree that needs to be in winter just a little bit longer.
Mary Beth seeks the glory of God in all of creation, especially wildflowers. Follow her @mb_keenan.15 for more reflections on mental health, motherhood, and caring for creation.