A Teacher of Vulnerability

Part of my morning reading: How We Survive Winter By Elizabeth Dias, New York Time online, Dec. 20, 2020

Winter white forest panorama with snow in Tatra Mountains, Envato

For generations, as the days darkened and the blizzards came, the Anishinaabe people warned of the Windigo.

He is the monster of winter, dripping with ice and white with snow, and he is starving, said Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, as she remembered the story of her ancestors. He is a human turned cannibal. His hunger is never satiated, and it endangers everyone around him. He thinks only of himself.

In winter, a time of scarcity, she went on, he is a cautionary tale to remember the good of the community, beyond the self. Winter is known as the hungry time, the dangerous time, she said, and people counted their age not by years but by how many winters they have survived — that man has 70 winters, this woman has 16. They wintered in small family groups, not villages, to spread out the demand on the land.

This winter, as the coronavirus pandemic consumes the country, it is as though we are reliving the unbuffered winters of our ancestors, she said.

“In wintertime, all life is on that knife edge between life and death,” said Dr. Kimmerer, the director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. “Winter is a teacher of vulnerability.”

This year a raw and unbridled winter has descended on America. Its darkness is literal, with the coming of the solstice on Monday, and it is metaphorical, with the catastrophic toll of Covid-19, as each day the number of Americans dead grows steadily. Across the country, the arrival of winter has filled people with fear and dread for what is to come.

These next few months could be the most difficult in the country’s entire public health history, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, warned recently. More than 300,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, and by February another 150,000 could die, he said. Intensive care units across the country are running critically short of beds. Families are separated over the holidays. Unemployment benefits for as many as 13 million people are set to expire at the end of the year.

To read more of the article, see: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/12/20/us/how-to-survive-winter.html

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