Wintering: How to Retreat when Times Get Tough

In her recent book, “Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times,” author Katrine May explores the concept of “wintering” – or, “a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider.”

Let’s face it: We’ve all needed to winter at one time in our lives. Whether after a romantic breakup, the loss of a job of a loved one, or when things in life generally seem like they’ve entered a dark turn.

May’s book allows her feelings to mirror the seasons outside. She breaks her chapters up by month, beginning in September and ending in March. This approach allows for larger themes and metaphors to develop.

“Wintering is a season in the cold,” May writes. “Everybody winters at one time or another. Some winter over and over again. However it arrives, wintering is usually involuntary, lonely, and deeply painful.”

In a world that always connected, always turned on, and always changing 24/7, choosing to winter may seem counterintuitive.

But sometimes it’s necessary.

Life can be tough, unforgiving, and cruel. Sometimes having the need to withdraw is normal. Life can be overbearing, overwhelming. “Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiently and vanishing from sight,” May writes. “But that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but is crucible.”

May documents her inner and outer life throughout each chapter as the seasons pass. Part memoir and part journal-like musings, the author explores the value of rest and retreat in difficult times. Often times, we hear of people needing to take a “Mental Health Day” off from work. But wintering is much more than that. Wintering is a slow, long retreat into one’s self. May describes it as lasting days, weeks, or months . . . sometimes years.

“It’s a moment when I have to step into solitude and contemplation,” May writes, describing what it’s like to retreat. “It’s also a moment when I have to walk away from old alliances, to let the strings of some friendships fall loose, if only for a while.” She adds: “It will get worse than this: darker, leaner, lonelier.”

In some ways, the year 2020 and now in 2021, many people around the world have been forced into their own personal winters. Social distancing has forced people to stay apart, stay at home, and to stay distant. Finally, I think that’s what makes May’s book so beautiful: There’s something about rest and retreat that we can all use, even if it’s not up to use when that time comes.


May, K. (2020). Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. Riverhead Books. New York, NY.

Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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