Perennial plants — the kind that re-bloom from the same roots, year after year after year — spend winter in a state of dormancy. It’s a survival strategy that equips them to endure weather conditions that are unsuitable for growth.
Dormancy is triggered by subtle cues, from decreasing temperatures to shortened daylight hours to reduced rainfall. It tells the plants to slow their cell activity and prepare their soft tissues for frost, as the green leaves and flowers wither and appear to die.
But they’re only resting underground. When the climate warms again, growth restarts from stored-up energy. The process is called “budbreak.”
I had never heard that term before researching this perennial plant magic. How beautiful is it? Budbreak?
We talk about blossoming and blooming. We talk about sprouting, the start of something new.
But we don’t talk enough about budbreak, the rebirth of something that had seemingly perished. We don’t talk enough about dormancy, the rest that is so often instrumental before any resumed growth.
I seek inspiration in other people’s stories. Whether artists or writers or entrepreneurs or spiritual gurus, I like hearing how my role models got to where they are. I like learning about their “turning points,” the moments at which they realized they had “made it.”
As I grow, I find comfort in outsiders’ accounts of personal development, reminding me that self-fulfillment takes time.
But the problem with these stories is that they are always arranged linearly, with beginnings, middles, and ends. Our cultural icons seem to have started like seedlings, way back when, and ultimately flowered into their fully blossomed selves — as if they are annuals instead of perennials, sprouting and blooming just once, gloriously, and then flourishing for the rest of their lives.
The truth is, we all have growing seasons. We all have to sit through stagnant winters — and winters, and winters, and winters — before we reach budbreak, again and again.
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
I always interpreted that Camus quotation as an encouragement to push one’s way through dark times with a brave, persistent smile. I thought it suggested a version of internal strength that flips its middle finger to frost and bellows “bite me” to blizzards, beaming. I imagined a hardy plant bursting its bright green leaves through bitter snow.
But I’m realizing, now, that I read it wrong.
The quotation is an ode to dormancy. It’s a reminder that adversity is an invitation to tend to our roots; to retreat and recoil, to wilt and wither for a while, so we can focus on fostering the deepest, oldest, truest fibers of our beings.
In the “depths of winter,” most plants can’t continue flowering in full color. That doesn’t mean they’re extinguished or obsolete or weak. Instead, their willingness to retreat and repose is actually what keeps them alive. It’s what allows them to eventually continue growing.
It’s okay to be tired of being brave, bold, and fierce. It’s okay to be tired of doing the right thing. It’s okay to be tired of pushing your limits. It’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to need respite.
“Brave” doesn’t always mean exerting yourself through adversity and exhaustion and fear. It doesn’t mean forcing forward towards one precise “turning point,” one specific moment when you’re supposed to blossom into your best self.
“Brave” means pursuing long-term growth, which requires recognizing resting season, accepting the subtle cues to humbly bow out for a little while.
Everything that feels like wilting and withering is only resting.
Every quiet, quiescent phase is merely a pause before impending bloom.
Every bout of overwhelming adversity is a signal to focus your energy on your roots.
Every bruise is a flower bed. Every scar, every slip-up, every sloppy regret — every rough patch, however icy, is a place to bury your buds for something brighter.
You will reach your next budbreak when it’s time.