I need this, I tell myself, as I put on thick wool socks for a chilly hike that every cell of my body is adamantly against. I’ve been holed up in my house all day, refusing to unbury my car from under layers of snow and ice, and I know the only thing that will bring me back from my hibernation is a walk with the trees.
It’s 12 degrees today, but it’s just another winter, nothing more dramatic than the one before, and this is the warmest it’s been all week. I should be used to it. I grew up here, so I understand that fall is nearly nonexistent. Here, we wear sandals one week and don’t question pulling out our winter coats the next. Yet without fail, the sudden drop of temperature still feels like a dark night of my soul, as I long for motion and growth, and aliveness.
I wane nostalgic, thinking, I should have enjoyed summer more, I should have slept under the stars more nights, and I should have been more grateful every time the warm sun flowed over my skin.
I should have, I should have, I should have… I ache, as I realize the outdoor spaces in which I felt most free are the same spaces I now wrap my body in layers of thermal to protect it from. Mother Nature, the gentle partner that cradled my creativity and soothed my soul is now a cruel force to be reckoned with, whipping my face so violently my eyes tear up. During the warm months, I find the divine on winding dirt paths or nestled between tree branches almost daily, but as the temperature drops, I struggle to hear any whisper of beauty over the sound of my chattering teeth.
But, today I will try. I lace up my boots and remind myself that a couple months ago, I promised I wouldn’t stop coming here when it got cold, which is why I spent an entire paycheck at the sporting goods store on winter gear. Through the layers of wool and down, a hopeful thought surfaces. If I really truly believe in the goodness of the natural world, I really want to believe this seemingly wretched season must serve a purpose for my soul too.
If I am filled with newness in each sunlit moment of summer, what part of me will winter bring alive?
Wearing three layers of sweaters and a scarf the size of a throw blanket, I head down the same path where a month ago I slipped my sandals off to dip my toes in the water. It’s hard to keep my focus through shivers, but there are masterpieces even now. The way the few snowflakes slowly disappear as they meet the surface of the lake is a different kind of motion, but it’s something.
I’ve always been wilder than is socially acceptable, but as I remember it’s more than just uncomfortable, it’s dangerously cold, I consider that being outside in this is proof that I am truly crazy. Besides the geese above me who have sense enough to seek warmer locations, I am the only visible creature on this path. In the whole time I’ve been here, I haven’t seen one deer, one rabbit, or even a squirrel.
Maybe it’s that the rhythmic sloshing of the half frozen lake is the only sign of life today, but I notice something else is different. The woods are silent. And so is my mind. ….It’s the quietest it has been in months. As I lean into the unfamiliar silence, I forget my aching cold body, and in that moment the same wind that was abusing me just a moment before seems to sweep away all the thoughts that were separating me from all of this. For just a brief moment, I become it- I am the cold air, the howling wind, the sleeping trees.
I’m in it, and then it’s gone, I’m me again, shivering human, but in the stillness of the frozen landscape, I understand. The sky, the air, and my body feel dense, and we linger comfortably together in our shared weight.
All I can do is breathe and accept the way the tops of my ears are beginning to lose feeling and the way my bones ache too much to move much further. I look at the four familiar miles ahead, and accept that today I will not go there, today I will just be here.
Today, the wind has more to say than me, so I will slowly walk the path back home, and I will be with silence and stillness.