Liminal Time (or, How I Learned to Love Limbo)

The altar at our Winter Solstice gathering

The altar at our Winter Solstice gathering

No one enjoys being in limbo: knowing that you need to move but having trouble finding the right place; waiting to hear back about a job and not knowing what to do in the meantime; that awkward time between the holidays and heading back to work. These times feel unsettled, uneasy, and uncertain.

Farming is a career that has a built-in limbo every year. It begins in December and persists in various forms until late March. December is very much the peak, as the previous season ends around Thanksgiving and the next season doesn't officially begin until January.

 As an herb grower, my outdoor activity winds down in late November, when all the pruning and winterizing is done. After working outside for weeks in frigid temperatures, I am eager to rest. December is a time that I dream about all year: I imagine sipping hot bevs on the couch,  reading novels, sleeping in, and visiting the friends I haven't seen for months. A restful December is what weary farmers look forward to all season. 

At the same time, the "off season" can be difficult. Less structure makes me feel less productive. I know this is the moment to be getting tasks done before the next season starts, but now I can't think of what they are, or it's too cold and equipment isn't working. Or the day seems to disappear just as I've gotten that project started. My body is happy to start the day later, but my mind doesn't always agree. Too bad -- it's my body that pulls me out of bed in the morning. I start planning for next season, but slowly. By the end of the month, I feel eager to have a routine again. I feel caught between the natural urge to be restful at this time of year and the "productive" urge to use the slow season to get caught up. The pattern is familiar by now -- it's been the same every year since I became a full-time farmer. 

This year's December limbo has been even more pronounced for me, as I'm getting ready to fully open Locust Light at the new Gravity Hill location. It's been, well, in limbo for about a year now as I've worked to get the perennial gardens established.  As the pruning was wrapping up and the temperatures dropped, I knew I would have to take on a more balanced mindset this year to get through the in-between time as gracefully as possible. 

Remnants of a magical evening

Remnants of a magical evening

As an herbalist, I think about "in between" spaces often: it is in the "in between" spaces where most herbs thrive. These spaces, where one landscape melds into the next, are rich swaths of biodiversity, and many species of plants, insects, fungi, microbes, and animals are happy there. This is both beautifully symbolic and factually true. Beings thrive in spaces where one area transitions to another. In poetic language, these spaces are called "liminal spaces." They are seen as the threshold of transformation.

This year, instead of being suspended in an uncomfortable limbo, I decided to view December as liminal time, an extended period of transformation between the end of one season and the beginning of the other. I would not view this month through the lens of what it lacked (structure and routine); instead, I would focus on the unique magic that December has to offer. It is in the midst of liminal space, and liminal time, that true transformation can occur

Amid the struggle to wake up early enough, I reflected on how lucky I am that I don't have to rise before dawn in the winter. I felt the pull of the inward spiral as the days shortened toward Solstice, and I reflected on both the blessings and difficult lessons of this year.  I allowed myself to retire earlier, and was thus able to focus better while I was working. I somewhat quieted the voice in my head that was screaming to be more productive. I read novels. I prepared for family time. I felt grateful.

On the Winter Solstice, I fulfilled a long-held wish of spending the entire day as a Day of Worship. I spent the morning in a long yoga practice, and through the afternoon I mindfully tidied and cleared my home for the evening's ritual. My boyfriend fixed some broken light fixtures (necessary, yet meaningful), and then, after dark, my loving community arrived to join in sacred ceremony. We reflected on the year past, set intentions for the year ahead, journeyed, journalled, and gave healing energy work to each other. We embraced December. It was perfect. 

Dried seed pods celebrate winter's beauty: the potential held within stillness.

Dried seed pods celebrate winter's beauty: the potential held within stillness.