Photo by Danielle Dolson on Unsplash

By Madeleine Forbes

As the year wanes and the sweet, sad shedding of the autumn works its magic, a new question arises, for those of us who pay attention to these things.

As you enter the soft, warm cave of winter, what will you choose to line your nest with? 

And, perhaps more importantly, what will you choose to leave behind?

Whether or not you’re someone who consciously connects to each season of the year, winter necessitates a drawing inward. 

The days grow shorter; the temperatures lower and the rain falls heavier. On the farm, the woodstove becomes the fulcrum around which our days pivot. Chopping, stacking, and carrying wood brings a rhythm steady as summer’s watering. The stovetop barely cools each night before the fire is lit once more, for endless pans of soup and pots of tea, roasting meat and baking cakes.

Our homes become havens. Shake out umbrellas, shed woollen layers, slip off heavy boots, and we can be held by the warm, bright spaces once more. I’m sure you have your own list of winter essentials—the stocks and stores to see you through the coming weeks. 

My nest is stocked with teas, spices, and orange peels for simmering with sticks of cinnamon, in water or red wine. 

I’m a snuggler, a lounger, and so the house is piled with well-worn blankets, soft things to root cold feet under, pillows to nap on while the wind roars outside. 

I demand good slippers—the local sheepskin ones are my favourite. Knitted socks. A hand-knitted sweater, preferably in a hideous design. A selection of well-loved woolen hats. Stylish I may not be, but by golly I’m warm.

Beyond the physical things, however, fun as they are to assemble, lies the deeper question. A nest is by its nature a place of nurture, a woven pocket of safety and warmth. As true winter approaches, I try to make a point of spending some time considering what I’d like to bring with me into it. 

Who are the people I love most? Who fills me with hope and laughter bright enough to light a winter’s night? Who will I choose to invite into my nest this year, to kick off their shoes and lie down by the fire with me?

What dreams do I want to settle in with, to hold and keep warm? Winter’s not a time for action. It’s a time for letting go of expectation, of returning to the marvellous imaginings that stir our spirits with nothing but love—no pressure, no deadlines. Only delight at what we can think up, and reverence for the mysterious processes that will call them forth. Like a bird on her eggs, I like to tuck my future visions in with me, knowing they’ll come forth when the light returns in spring.

What stories do I want to hear? And what do I want to tell? I’m no purist, believe me. Netflix is as valid a fireside as any these days. What matters is how captivating, delighted, thrilled, and transported I am by the tales I’m hearing. Going on a voyage with a marvellous storyteller is the kind of travel gloomy nights were made for. Every nest should have a stash of favorite tales and well-thumbed pages, of gasps and adventures, tears and nostalgia. 

Finally, what am I ready to leave behind? What old commitments, outgrown ambitions, unhelpful inner voices can stay outside? What voices am I happy to silence, as I retreat—to be carried away on the wind, transmuted under the snow?

Nesting is an art; it’s one I’m learning to refine each year. Come spring, I’ll be restless and ready to shake things out and roar into action, but for now, I’m going in.


Madeleine Forbes is a writer, walker and unapologetic neglecter of her inbox. Born in London, she left city life in 2014 to start an off-grid life in the hills of central Portugal. She’s founder of The Seasoned Year, an online project to help us deepen our connection to seasonal cycles. Most recently she’s exploring a new response to the climate crisis, rooted in the cycle of the year and our craving for deeper connection. You can sign up for free Letters from the Land and follow Madeleine’s blog via her website; or follow her on Instagram or Facebook.