From the roof of my hospital: Photo by Noelle
The hour is late and sleep should have long since found me, but instead I lay and listen to the steady rain upon the roof. It had been snow earlier, but now the temps hold above freezing and it comes down in taps obliterating any evidence that winter once lived here. I feel an odd sorrow for her passing, but know it will be brief. By weekend’s end this same rain will fuel an eruption of life that this dark, wet night hardly can ponder.
In the the light of my neighbor’s window cast upon the ceiling of my room, I see the rain drops running down the windows as shadows moving above me. I am reminded of old grief that once felt as heavy as the vanishing wet snow, but now, like rain to the irises in their beds it is the fuel to a heart breaking through dirt.
The bed is warm and dry, the cats snuggled close and asleep. It seems a shame to drift off to sleep in this cozy cocoon, but even butterflies must rest to break free.
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Oh that whore! She comes on like a beast. Whipping her snow and ice, demanding I heel. She blinds in her furious whiteness and pushes me hard against the door with her pounding wind. I slam it in her face and stumble to the stairs, breathless. I am Ahab and she Moby Dick.
“You shall not pass!” If I had Gandalf’s staff I’d have slammed it to the earth, but in truth, this statement is made rather weakly as she has, in fact, commanded me thoroughly all the way home. I have skated more than walked. Trudged bent, more than floated, regally. My fingers are stiff, my face wind burned and cold. I learned in karate, though, that if your opponent has greater skill, at least come out sounding ferocious. It may, in the end, be the only edge you’ll ever have. I head up stairs and unravel myself of gloves, coat and scarf. Snow pours off onto the floor and the cats scatter. My nose is soon running, but I am not put off. I stand before the dining room window and survey my winter kingdom and sniffle. I may be a snotty queen, but I am The Queen here.
Snow lifts off in waves from the roofs curling and swirling and slamming back hard toward the earth. Trees rock and sway in the gusting winds and the broken slot in one of my gutters whistles and moans. I startle at the sudden whipping of the screens against the windows, but regain my composure lest she think she has caught me off guard. She is impressive, I must give her that, but I am no puny human. I raise my arms up to command the winds, “Regale me with your winter taunts, you nefarious witch! Tear the shingles if you must, I will not be intimidated.” Admittedly, my cavalier stance comes from good homeowner’s insurance, but she knows nothing of this. She only sees my defiance and strength.
“I, not you,” I hiss, venomously with flashing eyes, “am the Winter Queen here!”
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He caught me completely unaware. I have stalked this owl for more than a year. He hoots, tempting me into the wood, but is gone before I get there; hidden in summer leaves or a winter’s bark. I have waited upwards of half an hour only to realize he has flown off and I’ve been left with a crick in my neck. I was completely distracted by thoughts of death and cold. On this evening two mutually exclusive topics. I was home safe and warm in cozy flannels when I saw it begin to snow. Death whispered in my ear, rather dramatically I might add, that one day I would lie upon my death bed and think of this night. How life and nature offered me a chance at a winter’s walk in a dreamy snow and I declined for warmth and comfort. I do my best to ignore death, as she can seem a ridiculous chatterbox in my ear, but on balance, she is more friend than foe. She oft reminds me to live while time is allowed me. Thus, I found myself trading slippers for boots and wondering how death usurped my woolen blankets, when the owl took me by surprise.
He was perched on a the lowest branch of a deliciously, knobby tree. He bobbed and turned his head taking stock of me. My face was stiff and my teeth ached in this biting cold, but I could not leave him so soon. This is his domain. The night and the open field. Sometimes you have to honor the presence of a master with your time. I dreamt once of being given an owl feather. The dream has drifted off into the mist, but that feather often comes to me while meditating. It floats before my closed eyes vivid in it’s pattern. I’d fly with this fellow if it was within me, but I am wrapped as tight as a mummy. I watch as he preens his feathers oblivious to the cold.
I have never regretted anything I felt inspired to do. Magic lies on paths of inspiration and they are the only roads that death does not haunt. Now I sit relishing toasted ciabatta, slathered in peanut butter and cinnamon honey. My nose warms its way back from the icy precipice and my cat lounges across my shoulders, a living scarf. I am alone again as it would appear death has flown off with the owl. Alas, such fickle friends.
The lake: Photos by Noelle
Winter is richness, not death. Riveting blues, stark vistas, animal tracks seen in a brilliant sun. After her tail quickly vanished into the ravine only her tracks were left on the snow. Cheeky coyote.
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A twenty minute walk would normally take you to the lake, but on this night it was closer to thirty five. The the road I cross from the marsh to lake is poorly cleared and there is a field of six to eight inches of snow to cross to reach the lake. I followed the cross country ski lines I saw so clearly in the light of the moon, from someone who had passed this way earlier in the day. I knew in all this crunch of snow and steaming breath no wildlife would be caught unaware. An owl can here a mouse crawling under snow a half mile off. To any Great Horned nearby I am sure I sounded a fire brigade to its ears. By the time I reached the lake I was sweating and hot and pealing off mittens, coat and hat as fast as I could. Temperatures enough to freeze the lake solid and I was as close to naked as I could stand amidst huge billows of steaming air.
As my breath slowed I became keenly aware of the sounds around me. Someone scraping a shovel on a sidewalk not quite a kilometer off. The highway to the west that runs below the hills that nestle the lake. A dog barking and someone calling out to a passerby. Sound carried across the snow as if we were all swimming in water. The ice on the lake cracked near where I was standing, but was muffled by all the snow. I was alone out here. With the light of the moon I could see for miles. Nothing along the lakeside moved. I stood very still and looked all around me. I am not even sure how to describe how the moon turned the lake into an iridescent opal of blues and purples. How tiny bits of light winked up off the snow in the moonlight, made all the clearer because of the darkness. How tree limb shadows snaked out across the snow in the deepest shades of purple and violet. The snow-capped hogbacks rose beyond the lake peppered in evergreen and patches of tall grasses positively glowing. The stars sat deep in their velvety darkness humbled by the moonlight and I too bowed to her power.
I redressed quickly as the sweat began to cool me off more than I wanted and picked the lower trail. I knew I needed to keep moving. I passed near a neighborhood that borders the lake. All the shades had been pulled that faced the mountains of these houses and I wondered at all they were missing. If I lived at the corner house I would never close my shades. On a night like this I would sit in my darkened home with the curtains wide, sipping hot cocoa enjoying an immense view.
On the far side, farthest from the neighborhoods and the roads and nearest the hogbacks, I stopped and listened for a long while. If you listen carefully you realize there is a deep silence even in the noise of neighboring life. It is steady and persistent. You may stand to listen for a moment, but it enchants you the longer you stand there. In all that silence, in all that open space covered in moonlit snow you forget yourself. You forget the cold and the distance for home. You forget you are a mere human in all this grandeur, and yet, that is when you realize you are the grandeur, too. The moment you stopped to appreciate all that beauty and silence you became a part of it. Instead of moving through, you moved in. In that moonlit field by the lake you have become, like the wild buckwheat and tall prairie grass, another motionless figure adding to the rich texture of a majestic landscape.
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The skies have just a few wispy clouds accenting a moon a third full. In the distance a blue glow eminates off the Hogbacks now fully swathed in a winter blanket of snow. Stars wink in the depths of the heavens and it is surely a perfect winter’s night.
The moon is enough to cast my shadow long upon the snow. Unfortunately, not bright enough to highlight the black ice leaving me committed to walk on the crunchier, and thus, louder snow. Years of yogic balancing now my only means to avoid landing loudly on my backside as I head down the north path. I fear I’ll see no wildlife tonight, but I am not the only noisy beast out this evening. Children whose parents are dining and drinking in the warmth of the house down the lane have taken to playing on the porch in the Christmas lights. It is clear they delight in hearing their giggles carry across the pond and echo off the houses on the other side.
I shift direction and take the deeper path Northwest and plunge into the eight or so inches of snow. My nose may be frozen but my feet are warm and dry in my trusty winter boots. I pass the house of the spirit fashionistas aglow in white Christmas lights and the ambient warmth of stylish living room lamps. I have been passing this well dressed house with its beautiful furnishings and art work for more than a year. I have never seen a living human inside it or decorating the outside. I have given this an embarrassing amount of effort, craning my neck and walking nearly into their yard. I have come to the conclusion that the ghosts of dead editors for Architectural Digest live there.
Once at the open fields and the marshes the world changes again. Deep snow and black tree trunks pepper the hillside and the moon turns it all into a storybook scene. Shadows of tall, snow-capped cattails break up the marsh in patches of midnight blue and I hear the ice crack on the farthest side. My coyotes are nowhere to be found and in this light I could see a mouse cross the marsh ice. I stay here a long time until my fingers ache with the cold.
Enchanted Nature’s Facebook page
Enchanted Nature’s Facebook page
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From Enchanted Nature’s Facebook page and Free Bing Photos.
On Christmas the snow had been more ice. It came down tapping the forgotten leaves of fall still hanging on the trees. Tap, tap, tap, but not like rain. More like rice thrown at a wedding, softly. It was the only sound I heard along the trail. Tonight, the ice now lays underneath and my feet crackle as I walk, but the night is much quieter under the fluffier flakes of this snow fall. At first, the cold air has me withdrawn into my coat, but as the trail winds on I slip out further from the hood, a rabbit leaving it’s burrow. The sad tragedy is we have too many lights at night and so it is never truly dark. The wonderful benefit of this sad tragedy is the city lights cause the winter storm clouds to glow. A ghostly sight of orange, gray and cream colored apparitions floating across the sky. I sometimes feel as if I have entered a surrealist’s painting, with the way shadows move at night. As a child, I remember standing very still in a wood, turning my head ever so slightly to make out the shadows along the wooded path I traveled for home. Now, there is so much light, it creates a very different sort of play of shadow both on the snow and along the horizon. Obvious and yet peculiar all at the same time.
The wispy clouds moving steadily eastward are only eclipsed in beauty by the two coyotes who dash across my trail. Unlike foxes, coyotes are not as curious about humans. A fox, if you stop to watch it, will often turn and watch you. Even moving a bit closer to sort you out. Not a coyote. They are wild through and through. It will be mating season soon and the pair travel close together. One almost as black as the night should be and the other like the cattails they run through across the frozen marsh. They stop deeper in the wood and watch me. Cattail doesn’t move and stares back at me. I feel, for some irrational reason, that he must move first. My breath sounds uncommonly loud standing there. I imagine he is listening to every breath, while I pretend to stand a statue. I realize he is much better at this and likely in need of a meal. I am delaying their night hunt, which given the snow may be more work and so I move on.
The night is always the same. It holds the same serene pace it always has had. No, it is me that changes along the path. I grow increasingly peaceful and in harmony with the night and the cold and the slowly falling snow. I wonder at times that I am alone. The nights are so beautiful like this and yet there is not a soul in sight. This possibly, more than anything, has drawn me out again and again each evening, no matter the cold. The night is mine and outside of my coyote friends rarely interrupted. So even as I am perplexed by man’s loss of interest in the mysteries of the night, I am as delighted as a child to have these snowy footfalls all to myself.