Quiet on a Barren Winter Hillside

Celebrating my 200th post!  Check out Articles (above) and see what I’ve written in the pastThere 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.

  • Bonnie

    beautiful bill – maybe come spring you might take me with you on one of your hikes – brings back memories of mt monadanock with you bringing us up hiking. my daughter loves hiking also and feels more at home in the woods than anywhere!  keep up the wildramblings please – i love to read them.  you actually inspired me to pick up 2 journals and start to write again, so thank you for that.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I’d really like to go hiking with you sometime Bonnie.  I have some great ideas for hiking, some with views, others with lots of critters and plants to identify.  Let me know this spring when you want to go!

  • http://www.landingoncloudywater.blogspot.com/ Emily

    Happy 200th post! Quite a milestone. Just this evening I started the habit of practicing yoga again after too much time away. You’re right: it feels so good to be quiet. I hope to be able to simplify my life this year, pare it down to essential things, and hopefully take more of your kind of walks. Cheers to you in the New Year!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    My wife has been practicing yoga for many, many years and she is a very happy peaceful person.  I’ve been thinking about it myself but can’t quite picture me in a yoga pose.  Pretty funny image at best.  All Americans would do better to pare life down to that which is essential.  That includes me too.  I love fishing stuff and could do well with less. 

    And cheers to you Emily.  I look forward to anything that you write.  You are an artist is many ways.

  • http://everyday-adventurer.blogspot.com/ Ratty

    In this post you describe exactly why I like nature, to be able to be alone and relax. I always like to find a place where I can stop and let my mind slow down and be calm. Incidentally, I just yesterday saw some wild turkeys crossing the road in front of me. It was only the second time I’ve ever seen wild turkeys.

  • Wild_Bill

    Away from the hustle bustle of civilization being by yourself in the natural world can be an eye opening experience.  For me it is like prayer.  I can’t imagine a more sacred experience.

  • http://fourwindsphotojournal.wordpress.com/ sandy

    Thanks for explaining about the turkey scout. I have heard the clucking several times, but couldn’t figure it out. 
    I’ll bet you wouldn’t have drifted off if you had the dogs with you. Being alone, really is refreshing sometimes. 
    I never under why anyone would go walking with an iPod or other head attachment.
    Beautiiful photos.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Anything that would require a cell phone signal wouldn’t work around here anyways.  Being alone in the woods is nearly beyond expression.  It is so tranquil and seems to make everything clearer, at least for me.  Yep, being in the woods with the hounds is fun, but NOT a meditative experience.

  • http://alsphotographyblog.blogspot.com/ Al

    It sounds like a wonderful hike, I certainly like the photos, and I love watching snowflakes fall. “Above freezing temperatures during the day and below freezing temperatures at night” describes almost 8 months of the year at my high-altitude semi-arid location – it’s a killer on the roads.

  • Teresaevangeline

    I took several photos of the barren treetops today. I love how the sunlight glints off them. This is such a nice meditation on an early winter day. I love the sound of a train in the distance….

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Winter has been slow to come in the northeast US.  We are about a month behind schedule.  It is finally cold but very little snow.  Yes, watching snow flakes fall from the sky is pure luxury!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Trees, naked of leaves, are stark and beautiful.  They reflect the sun but it is not embraced as it is in summer.  Winter makes meditation easy, wouldn’t you say!

  • http://primarilypets.blogspot.com/ Barbara

    Ah the peace – I feel more rested and contemplative after joining you on your exploration Bill. Thank you for that. The morning has already been filled with lots of activity on the deck with birds, outside with the dogs playing and barking at neighbouring dogs, listening to news on the radio – not a delight, and often upsetting… so this bit of prose that you’ve given us is SO welcome, so tranquil.

    I didn’t think that anyone else ever watched snowflakes fall…it’s a favourite occupation. My walks with the dogs are often spent standing and looking, and being grateful, my two (so far) haven’t chased deer or other critters very far as your bloodhounds would do. Gratitude is what I feel for this beautiful essay Bill – congratulations on 200, please continue. You offer so much for us all to learn about the environment and also about each other as we read the comments in response to your writing (I’m sure I’m not alone in reading what everyone else has to say, getting to know them through you).

    May you have deep snow for snowshoing soon, and enjoy each bit of peace and privacy.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Barbara.  Not much snow yet, and not much on the horizon but I am going ice fishing this PM.  And thank you for the wonderful compliments.  Support is a real plus for a writer.  Keeps me writing.  Sometimes I wonder if its worth it and then I remember that I love to write. 

  • http://outwalkingthedog.wordpress.com/ Out Walking the Dog

    What a lovely and fitting 200th post – as so often on your blog, Bill I feel that I have been on your walk with you. Love the turkeys, and you nodding off on a cold winter’s day. I agree with Barbara, below, that you’ve created quite a community through drawing us, your readers, together. Thanks!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    And a wonderful community it is.  Almost all who come here have wonderful blogs that in some way or another show a great appreciation for nature.  I encourage everyone to check out the blogs of those who post at http://www.wildramblings.com.  There are some pretty special people and some pretty interesting points of view.

  • Guy

    Hi Bill

    I felt my tension bleeding away as I read your post, that is quite the talent. The photo of the turkeys were incredible what a lovely thing to see even if they did interrupt your meditations.

    All the best.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thanks Guy.  If this helped you to relax that is great!  These particular turkey photos were actually taken this fall with a trail camera stationed not too far away from where the story took place.  The other photos were all taken this winter.  I forgot my camera the day this story took place. 

  • http://www.anniespickns.wordpress.com/ Annie

    As I often do I had saved reading your post until a time when nothing else would distract me. That time was this evening after I finished dinner and the dishes.  I wandered into my office where the only light in the room was the computer screen. A couple of clicks and it filled with your lovely words. It was very meditative reading but, like you my mind has a tendency to wander off into other directions. I found myself comparing your walk to my bike ride along the river today. Instead of beautiful snow flakes, I felt the warmth of the sun and the breeze created by my movement, I saw and heard many different birds, everything from tiny humming birds to Red-tailed hawks, all busy with the business of being birds.  A different palette visually but still working in the same calming way.  There was one other thing,  I also saw wild turkeys today. They were under a persimmon tree in the yard of an abandoned farm trying to peck off the lowest hanging fruit. At first I didn’t really see them just the movement of several persimmons which I thought was odd since there was no wind to speak of, then as I looked longer I could see the turkeys so I stopped and watched for a while, then headed on down the river.

    I loved the trail camera turkey photos. Great color and clarity.  It must be exciting to find those kind of images recorded. What other critters have you been able to capture with the trail camera?

  • http://www.wildramblings.com/ Wild_Bill

    Hi Annie

    It sounds like you had a marvelous bike ride.  Traveling about on a bicycle can be a terrific way of enjoying nature.  Bikes are so quiet you can ride right up on wildlife under the right circumstances.  You have a different species of turkey where you live.  And I’d love to see them eating under a persimmon tree, something we don’t have in the northeast. 

    Photos from my trail camera?  Deer, black bear, coyotes, red fox, gray fox, fisher, turkeys, and one other animal which I will write about soon.  I’ll keep it a mystery for now.   Still pondering how it was where it was given it is not supposed to be in my region.  Or was it what I think it is?

  • http://findanoutlet.wordpress.com/ Find an Outlet

    The meditative state does not come easily to me either, though I never give up trying. In fact it sometimes brings on panic attacks and I wonder if the constant whirlwind of my brain is actually a defense mechanism to distract me from even worse reflections. Years ago a doctor taught me meditative exercises to relieve migraines but that was a different lifetime, now it’s not so simple. Regardless, I enjoyed your quiet time vicariously through this post and shared, however briefly, the peace you experienced. Intervals of pleasure such as these that refresh and soothe are always welcome to the troubled mind.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com/ Wild_Bill

    As I age I have less difficulty finding the meditative state.  Now I have to try avoiding sleep as an alternative to meditation.  That’s OK.  As long as I can appreciate what is before me I have no complaints.  Life is a mystery no doubt, especially for those paying attention.

  • http://montucky.wordpress.com/ Montucky

    This was a wonderful read, Bill! I have some of the same impatience awaiting our “normal” winter, but come to think of it, we’re already at the point where the cold air feels good on my face and I know I will miss that when springs brings new warmth to the breezes. The forest is a wonderful place to be in each of the seasons and for all different reasons. 

  • http://swamericana.wordpress.com/ Jack Matthews

    I find myself wanting periods of not-thinking-in-categories more and more.  I know it can be done anywhere, but when in the corner of the pasture or in the grove and there are only trees and bush to see and wind to hear, I find that most restful.  I often sit in the alleyway of my barn and have watched ant-lions dig and the roadrunners come out of the cactus to play in the corral.  Couldn’t have had that experience if I had been moving around.  I am glad your winter has arrived and I hope it stays a long time for you, Bill.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com/ Wild_Bill

    Ant lions and roadrunners!  What a different live you live than I!  Tantalizing!

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