Celebrating my 200th post! Check out Articles (above) and see what I’ve written in the past! There is a lot to choose from.
Winter, upon a very late arrival, has finally settled into the tall hardwoods that grace this woodland on a south facing slope. After the longest November in history, nearly two full months of above freezing temperatures during the day and below freezing temperatures at night, we are locking into temperatures that support fully frozen ground, ice on lakes, and my warm breath freezing at it hits the frigid air. My impatience did little to bring winter any earlier. I could not bear to wait for “the way things were suppose to be” even though I know that is a ridiculous notion.
The forest is barren. The fallen leaves make a crunching noise beneath each step. There still is no permanent snow cover. All of our past months precipitation fell as rain or small amounts of snow that could not be sustained with the warm day time temperatures. As I travel across a steep side slope I realize that I must be careful. The frosty leaves are slippery and a tumble on this steep slope could send me careening down hill for several hundred feet. When possible I hang on to saplings or tree limbs. When there is nothing to cling to I scramble quickly to the next place where there is a secure hand or foot hold. After about ten minutes of scrambling across this steep precipice I reach my destination. This knob of bedrock holds several large trees and is the perfect perch to view the thousands and thousands of acres of forest that is to my south. I can see an inordinately long distance through the naked tree limbs. It is a wonderful location to stop, observe, and think.
A fallen tree provides a horizontal trunk that makes an adequate, if not somewhat hard, seat. My legs are tired from the jaunt across the steep and treacherous hill side. A rest seems not only convenient by necessary. I nestle in, leaning my back against a vertical branch that rises from the fallen tree, and I can hear my breath slowing as I take in the view in front of me. As I listen to my quieting breath it occurs to me that as a younger man I might not have stopped here for more than a few moments. There was always something else to see in those days. I wonder what I might have missed in my desire to see something else, something new, something distant.
The forest is quiet. There is no wind. Only the long groan of a distant train some five miles away in the Deerfield River valley can be heard. The noise of the train wanders off into the distance. For a brief moment I wonder where that train has been and where it is going. Having no way of figuring this out I refocus my attention to what stands before me. These winter woods are meditative. Everything is still. There are no birds or squirrels, there is no wind, there is only the sound of my own heart beat, my own breath, somehow trying to blend in with my surroundings. The trees do not sway, the dried and frozen leaves do not rustle, it is so quiet I can hear the fabric of my winter vest collar rub as I turn my head to the side. Time seems to be standing still.
Within a few minutes I am relaxed. I feel as if I am just part of nothing, or everything, for it makes no difference. This is the feeling that I have been looking for since winter arrived on the calendar. It is the time for just being, even if it is only for a few minutes. I listen to myself breath; inhale, exhale, every so slowly. Trying to clear my mind of clutter is not always easy. I remember listening to my breath as a child while hiding; fearing that someone could hear it. These are exactly the type of thoughts that I try to shed, at least for a short while. Most of the time I let my mind wander. I find it to be very therapeutic. Sorting things out into categories. Random thoughts become organized and seem to make sense for a few minutes. This can also bring me peace. But now I want to be free of anything that is not in the here and now. So I let it all go.
My eyes wide open I notice snow flakes drifting towards the ground. The steep slope in front of me allows me to watch them fall for a long period of time. I focus on one snow flake at a time; a fairly easy task given this holds no promise to become any more than a very shallow flurry. Each white dot tumbles slowly, zigging left, zagging right, and sometimes even getting caught in a warm current and rising up. Lazy seems like an unfair description of their descent. The random motion they display holds no purpose of intent. It just is.
As nature would have it a large turkey flies in from seemingly nowhere and lands at the base of this hill. He is large and bronze and totally unexpected. My meditative trance is fully interrupted and my mind springs into action. Watching a turkey scour for food can be great entertainment. They seem to know just where to scratch up leaves to find buried beech nuts. I wonder if this is done by memory, sense of smell, or sense of touch. The turkey pecks at the ground and clucks. The loud cluck is something of a surprise! Turkeys typically cluck to contact other turkeys. Sure enough only a few moments go by and several other turkeys fly into the picture. I laugh to myself at the notion of a “scout” turkey. Perhaps a turkey that specializes in finding food. There is no time for this thought to linger in my mind as I watch the gaggle tear up the forest floor. They scratch, peck, and eat voraciously for about five minutes until the pecking slows. And then they fly off to the west one at a time. They fly up and over a ridge to parts unknown. My brief interlude of entertainment vanishes almost without warning and once again I am left alone with my thoughts.
The meditative state does not come easily to me. Given my brain was reactivated by the brief visit to the forest floor below me I decide to just relax and let my mind wander. To my surprise it skips over a few miscellaneous thoughts and settles back into “park”. Clearly it is in need of a brief respite and I need to let it rest. All is quiet.
About a half an hour later I wake up. My head is slumped forward and as I open my eyes I can see tiny icicles hanging off of my mustache. I look from side to side and notice that the day is brightening, snow flakes no longer fall quietly to the earth, and a very slight breeze rustles the dried leaves on the forest floor.
I stand to stretch my legs. It is time to move on. I am refreshed and there is another secret place that I wish to take in this afternoon. I look across the steep slope that I must traverse to the higher ridge to the west. I will travel carefully, taking care with each step on the slippery side slope. I still have a long ways to go.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in January of 2012.