It’s not quite winter, and the weather here in Boulder has been beautiful (save for a very midwestern cold spell a few weeks ago), but it’s definitely upon us.
Winter is not my favorite. It’s cold when I like to be warm. It’s dark when I want the days to be longer. It’s dreary and wet and I find myself standing under a hot shower because I feel freezing all the friggin time.
But it also offers a time of natural reflection: we get cozy, pile on sweaters and heat up tea. The days are shorter, ushering us indoors to embrace some silence. Winter is a quintessential dark and feminine time: quiet, sweetly solitary and exquisitely confrontational.
What a better environment to totally give yourself over to something new. A big reason why people get so down and stir-crazy in the winter is because we have all this energy wound up within us, trying to get out. So for the past few years, I choose a winter obsession: a topic that suddenly takes my interest, and I make a conscious decision to become supremely preoccupied with it. Two years ago it was urban beekeeping. Last year it was medicinal herbs. This year, it’s booze.
I can’t seem to get used to drinking at altitude, so this is more of a theoretical obsession, interspersed with a bit of practical application. Not just all booze, though: the obscure, throw-back liqueurs that have roots in cultural plant medicine–they’re really just herbal tinctures.
As I read more and more about botanically infused spirits, I can’t help but be reminded of tincturing with Rachel at Hidden Garden. On a tiny scale involving brown Imperial 40s and Smirnoff, we stuffed the bottles full of plant matter, topped it with vodka, labelled them and put them somewhere out of direct sunlight to avoid the breakdown of precious compounds and essences. Once a day, we turned them over to make sure they were getting evenly dispersed and prevent mold from growing on air-exposed leaves.
Pharmacist Peychaud invented the Sazerac cocktail just to sell his medicinal bitters. Industry faves Chartreuse and Fernet are potent digestives infused with powerful herbs–could there be an underlying, subconscious reason why we crave the strong, bitter taste after a long day?
The history of these spirits and their uncanny resurgence in contemporary American cocktail culture is fascinating. I can certainly do without the achingly elevated ice thing, but I can’t help but wonder if the popularity of these medicinal spirits is somehow a harkening back to ancestral medicine.
A stretch? Maybe. But I’m going with it.
Instead of the negative connotation the word sometimes has, I consider my Winter Obsession to be a healthy one: all-encompassing, reverent and numinous. It requires commitment without a reward other than expanding the breadth of your own knowledge. It’s a solitary and contemplative journey, something that other people may not understand. It is purely for you, a gift waiting to be opened.
My Winter Obsession grounds me. In a vata, airy season that tends to send me into restless fits of anxiety and sleeplessness, research gives my mind something to rest on. It’s a fantastic complement to other grounding rituals. Want to get in on the action?
Choose an obsession
It could be something you randomly pick out of a hat, have a friend choose for you, or just something that’s been taking your attention lately. It could be as practical as learning a new language, or as useless as learning the intricacies of Scrabble.
Go to the library, listen to podcasts, hit Google hard. Gather your information in spreadsheets and in documents. Devour books then keep track of what you’ve finished via Goodreads or something similar. Check out documentaries on Netflix or Youtube. Fall enthusiastically down the rabbit hole and embrace what you find, even if it takes a completely kooky turn. Get esoteric and question everything. Make larger connections between the body of your research and what you’re experiencing. There is much weird, synchronistic goodness to be found when we follow what instinctively attracts us.
Do something with it
Probably the most important step–what are you going to do with it? I tend to write about mine, taking notes and incorporating them into fiction or articles, but I’ve also drawn pictures or joined meetups or attended networking events–including a honey tasting at the Garfield Park Conservatory! Let your obsession inform your art and seep into your social life. Get inspired by what you’ve discovered and use it in any way you can.
What are you getting obsessed with this winter?