For most months, I’m out first thing for a brisk walk, or a mighty jog through the woods, depending on how this aging body responds to a willing spirit. But this day was a cold winter one where tears settled in around my eyes and when the sun seemed asleep and blanketed by an off-white canvas overhead. I was desperate to feel the ground underfoot, to feel connected in a way that for so long has felt disconnected on so many levels. I dressed in standard winter attire of heavier coat, hat, scarf and mittens, and enough Kleenex in my pocket to get me through it all.
The day’s walk was like no other. And all it took was a simple change in scenery.
My ankles rolled on salt pellets scattered on the asphalt, hardened with the frozen slush, and I quickly knew this was not my idea of “feeling the ground.” So I continued walking, crossed the street and faced the snowy earth on a trail through the woods.
The snow covering the footpath was deeper than I expected. My feet sunk in snowy crystals well over my ankles as they wiggled in the uneven white carpet, carved out by craggy prints of boots and paws and dissecting parallel lines drawn by skis. No longer chilled, the unevenness challenged my body to work at keeping my balance, fueling warmth and a misty sweat.
Settling into a walking rhythm, I freed myself from looking down at my footing and looked up to a larger view, thinking of this as an adventure and something Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice in Wonderland.
“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”
It was difficult to imagine myself here, just a few months ago, treading dried leaf piles, damp from an overnight rain, watching the leaves of oaks and cottonwoods succumbing to the pull of fall winds weaving through the slender shoots of mother tree trunks and thick ones of the old and stately or catching the sound of rustling brush made my meandering deer, or cracking fallen branches or when slicing with each step through a quickly rising heat and humidity of an early July morning when I slowed to a brisk walk, held back by age now when once endurance of youth kept me in motion. I’d follow with my eyes a blue jay, or a cardinal or a bright yellow finch, their color a standout among a green landscape. And then I’d hear a click, signaling the turning on of water sprinklers at a nearby golf course, a golf ball slicing off the twelfth tee cutting through the humid air. Thunder rumbling like bass drums in the distance. Dark clouds like ink spots hovering east, over the lake.
But my walk this winter was like no other season when I was reminded of the absence of the markings of seasons; the bright colors or hazy humidity in summer, the muted shades of nature and the brisk winds in autumn, pops of green and birds song, the clean scent of a spring rain.
For winter cannot just be defined as the absence of, but by the fullness of stillness, of calm that signal us to live presently, when our winter of few birds, no color, and naked trees taps our subconscious for connections to our memories.
During that walk, I thought about the year’s cycle and how it’s well-defined and memorable by color, temperature, and the seasons synonymous with the things we do during those months. I couldn’t tell you exactly when I lost the rose bushes in the backyard to disease, or what winter was too warm to keep a skating rink in the park frozen, but I can say that the seasons continue to roll forward in ways just as we expect.
I think it’s true when, whoever said it, the older you get the faster time goes. And here I am, walking through woods now more often than running through them when in my youth, recalling the memories, the connections I’ve made to each season.
And here’s a little of Mark Twain as I wish for a speedy spring!
“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”