The Winter of Our World
It is Midwinter in the North, but it is the beginning of the world’s new Winter. A strange one, one for which we have no rituals and celebrations, no language or theories. Perhaps there are no words to describe what is happening, either–just the sounds of sighs and groans, the quiet cascade of tears falling down grief-stricken faces.
I do not need to tell you about the rise to power of the New/Alt/Fascist right, the crumbing of the empires of which we are mere bastard children. Melting ice-caps, dying species, the shaking of spears, the baring of teeth. Signs point to war, omens to death, oracles to riots and murderous opposition.
It is all awful, but I am not worried. I am not worried about this awful new Winter in the same way I am not worried about winter.
We have known this was coming. We have had plenty of time to prepare for this, though many were convinced we could live in eternal summer and derided us as we gathered up for a time they swore would never come. Many of us, for a little while, believed them.
Now, chill rimes the branches, our gardens die under deep cold. Some roots will survive, others will freeze and break. Some hearths will burn bright and warm enough for many, some will burn too low to provide life.
If this seems harsh, we must remember: the crone cannot be denied, no matter our magics and technologies, our armies and elections, our certainties and illusions.
And we must also remember: It is never very long until the next spring.
There is a story I tell every year about winter. It is the story I tell when people tell me there is no way we can survive what is coming, no possible path out of capitalism and empire.
I will tell it again.
There was this moment with a lover of mine, now nine winters ago. We’d gone together to get wax to make candles and the stuff for mulled wine, and we got stuck on a bus in a snowstorm at the bottom of a steep hill. We’d had little time to do much together, had both been ground-down by our jobs and the difficulties of our relationship and our various lives, and this simple errand had been a beautiful thing to do together, seemingly crushed by a sudden storm.
The bus wasn’t going anywhere. Cars spun out, slid back down the hill past the bus. We were gonna be there for hours before the bus would ever start moving again, and it looked like the world was against us, the same way every awesome thing we ever tried to do would fall apart in the face of impossibility.
Both of our lives, actually, were impossible.
I grew up in abject poverty in Appalachia to an abusive father and a developmentally-disabled (they used to call people with her intelligence quotient “retarded”) mother who later developed schizophrenia. His mother? Addicted to drugs since he was a child.
He’d tell me a story about being 14 and being left with his 6-month-old half-brother for days on end, trying to figure out what to do with a baby while his mother was out drug-seeking. I’d tell him stories of being in South Florida trying to raise my sisters and pay rent at 14 while my mother talked back to voices telling her to drive my sisters and I off a bridge into the water. And it’s funny, because he and I would have arguments about whose childhood was harder (I thought his, he thought mine).
The world’s a fucking impossible place, and we both knew this a little better than most.
And we’re sitting there in this bus as the snow falls and cars slide past us, hitting each other in the great chaos of human effort against nature. That bus wasn’t fucking going anywhere, but you know what we did?
We got off the bus and walked.
Trudging up that icy hill in a snowstorm, laughing, watching all the silly people in their silly cars trying to get up that hill, catching snowflakes on our tongues, pushing stuck cars on our way up…the impossible is always impossible only if you insist on going on precisely the way you think you’re supposed to.
If we can’t have cars and mass-produced shit and 40-hour work weeks in lifeless jobs without ruining the planet, we can just start walking and making stuff that lasts and working less in more meaningful ways.
If we can’t have smartphones and computer games and 400 television channels and fresh strawberries in winter, then we can write letters and play cards and tell stories and make strawberry jam in the summer.
If we can’t make absurd amounts of money off of selling houses and derivatives and weight-loss programs and plastic toys, then we make absurd amounts of joy and equality in societies where people grow gardens and tend forests, where no one gets to ruin other people’s lives on account of having more money than others.
So what if that bus isn’t fucking getting up the hill in the snowstorm?
We can walk up the hill and catch snowflakes on our tongues and warm our winter-chilled bodies with each others’ flesh when we get to the top.
The way past the impossible usually just involves giving up some certainty that is keeping you on a snow-bound bus at the bottom of a hill, some habit, some reliance on an expectation that isn’t serving you any longer.
You can carry a rucksack full of wax and wine up a snowy hill with your lover and laugh and make mulled wine and warm yourself and each other with the love falling like rain and snow from the skies.
You can read by the light of burning barricades and plant chamomile in the cracked pavement and tell stories of what it was like when we thought we needed government and capitalism, credit cards and police, when we thought we didn’t need forests and water, the gods and the dead.
We can side with the poor and the streams and forests and crows and the forgotten, because there’s so many of us, you know, and we have the best stories.
And we can start building now. Actually, we must. If we’re to counter their violence with something other than violence, a game we can never win, we must create the world we want now. A world full of gods, a world of remembered dead, a world others want to join and help create, one that doesn’t flood the cities and poison the waters and raze the forests and abuse women or favor one skin color over all others.
The first step’s easy.
You just have to leave the stuck bus, and make sure you help others up the hill on your way.
Rhyd’s a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He writes here and at Paganarch, or you can also read about his sex life on Fur/Sweat/Flesh, or read his near-daily “Anarchist Thought of the Day” on Facebook. He lives nomadically, likes tea, and probably really likes you, too.
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