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January 4, 2011

The carrion eaters had done their work. The entrails were gone. The sun had melted the blood and snow into mud. The woods returned to how they had been before the deaths. It is always so.

Some years ago, there had been a fox in the woods, a handsome creature. For several seasons, I would see him cross a path up on the hill. He would stop and regard me as I regarded him. We exchanged pleasantries and went our ways. It was a joy to see him. In the end though, I saw only what was left of him. Perhaps he had been hit by a car or attacked by something. I do not know. In his case, I did not look too closely as the insects had set upon him to do their duty and return him to the earth. I miss him still.

While I know the spot where the fox ended, the woods hold no clue that he was ever there. The leaves of the seasons fell and rotted, fertilizing the small plants and sprouting trees that would renew the earth in their season. The circle is unbroken. Therein lies the strength

When you gain intimate knowledge of a wood, portals open. Fantasy novels reaching into the magic of earth lore start to make sense. Old power, very old power slowly wakes up. For no reason, you look up. At that second, a Great Horned Owl stares down at you. For no reason, you look down. At that second, a toad crosses your path. There is a reason. For that split second, you were open and the power touched you.

Today was one such touch. For no reason, I looked up. Above me was a wild magic sky. It looked as if the trees had made brushes of themselves to paint clouds as halos around their crowns.  Then, like petulant artists, they swept it all way. Beginning anew, they divided the sky in two—below a delicate tracing of angel hair, above a Belgian lace.

Ruefully, I note my lack of imagination. I simply cannot imagine anything more beautiful, more perfect, more heavenly than this earth. I lack the intelligence to grasp why religions send us inside buildings made by humans to worship. I have seen Notre Dame, Canterbury Cathedral, Abu Simbel and I still cannot fathom how they are a better place to pray than under a wild sky.

Mid-January

January is a meditation on a landscape simplified by snow. Where once there had been infinite detail there is now the gentle curves of white snow and blue shadow. Friends who do not hike ask how I know where the trail is. That is the simplest of all. The trail is the snow unbroken by tall grasses or brush. The path is the unblemished snow when no human has been there first.

The path is also, in some places, the deer trail. It is those places where two species agree upon the direction of travel for a time. The human path runs generally on the east-west plane and the deer path on the north-south. Our purposes are different. The deer seek the expedient route from food to shelter. The former located in the corn fields below and the latter in the bramble thickets on the hill top. The humans seek the longer paths to walk.

My mind has not been much on this landscape but rather on the landscape in my mind. Direction on snow covered land is simple and clear; direction in the mind—too many forks, too many choices. The lesson is, of course, to move the mind to the simple clarity of the land. Easy to know, and yet infinitely more difficult to push through than deep snow.

January 22, 2011

Wind chills take the 6 degree temperature below zero in spite of the winter sun. Though dressed for the temperatures, the wind pushed a forced march rather than a contemplative walk. Face buried deep in my hood, I still felt the sting on those few centimeters of exposed skin.

In the few seconds I paused to take a picture, my gloved hands went cold and I felt the need to keep moving to stay warm. There were interesting patterns in a pool of ice. As I stepped forward to snap the picture my booted foot slid. I looked down and saw only the aged macadam of the old road. Again, my foot slipped. My eyes and feet could not agree that there was ice so clear that it disappeared from sight. Truly, it was black ice, the surface of which held no tension to anchor my feet.

It feels good to accept the challenge of nature, to be out of the hot house plant environment we humans have created for our comfort. Our bodies can endure; it’s our minds that limit—too cold, too hot, too wet, too dry. My short walk was barely a flicker of challenge and worth it all the same.

January 29, 2011

The woods were silent under the weight of Thursday’s snow. Branches and bushes bowed down under the accumulation. It was an invitation to stop and be at peace. It would have been ungracious to refuse and so I stopped for a time to simply be.

When I’d drunk my fill of the moment, I walked the farm road which some angel on snow shoes had kindly created a path. I was not the only grateful soul as the deer had left their prints in the very same path. For once I was happy to follow where someone had gone before. Deep snow is an effort; a trail to follow eases the way.

A fellow hiker and I stopped to exchange information about where the trail was blazed. As we talked, two deer crossed the farm road toward the corn field. They paid us little heed.

January 30, 2011

Sound returned. Crows argued raucously. Wan sun, warmer weather and wind gusts conspired against the snow clinging to small branches. Each falling snow made a distinct sound. Some shushed as it fell through the few dry beech leaves. Others thumped dully as they met with ground snow. This time between storms was a return to business as usual in the woods. It was a beautiful walk.

While we remember the passing of season, we hold only the thought of spring or fall. Perhaps we hold dear a single detail. In looking at the photos of the past six months, I find myself surprised by the specifics of each season and the gradual morphing from one to another. Summer becomes fall leaf by leaf, minute by minutes of lost daylight and lowering sun. Fall becomes winter, gently, gradually. Seasons are a slow and gentle process. It is people who rush. We speed through days wishing for a different season. We rush through seasons wishing for a different year. We rush through our lives wishing for something better.

Now is winter. Now is cold, sunny, snowy, windy. Now is the season of bare trees and low sun. Now is a beautiful gift. Why do we turn up our noses and wish for a different gift? And then, when we have it, wish for the first that was so magically wrapped with silence and snow?

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