I’m chasing the rays leading up to the shortest day of the year. They have lured me onto the path of my favorite nature trail that rides alongside a wide, rolling brook. Today it is freeze-your-berries-right-off-the-vine cold. The brook is mostly frozen over except for a few places where the water busts through the mounds of snow, leaping out of the jaws of ice. The water is stubborn and restless, refusing to get trapped under the cold hand of winter.
I can relate. The past month has been a slow pendulum swing between inflamed passion to act up, act out, and a tired shirk of the shoulders in defeat—David looking dumbly at the feet of Goliath and idly wondering what’s new on Netflix. Not wanting to surrender to the cold (New England winters last clear into April, one cannot wave the white flag too early) and tired of feeling increasingly adrift and sedate, I pulled on a respectable amount of layers and headed down the road to the trail head.
The woods around the trail are dense. Towering pines, oaks, and beeches create a thick canopy that keeps the path refreshingly cool in the summer and chillingly damp in the fall and winter. I wasn’t planning on venturing further than the small bridge that spans the brook until I noticed the light. Ribbons of sun stream through the snow-laced fingers of the pines, falling in great, buttery shafts. It is fairy tale light—the kind of rays leading you to a treasure chest, an enchanted spell book, or an ancient sword sticking out of a stone. It felt like a gift, an offering from the stoic Winter Gods reminding me that nothing is either all dark or all light. I need that memo from the Universe. Could I have it auto-delivered to my inbox every day please?
Maybe it’s the cold, but I find myself literally moving toward the light (sorry near death experience stories, I didn’t make it a cliché). I thrash my way onto the path, wincing from the loud crunches and splotches made by my boots breaking through the ice snow pack and shredding the relative silence of the woods. I move quickly to stay warm and because the sacred atmosphere of the place, how everything feels hushed and insular, like stepping into a snow globe, springs a trip wire in me. I’m suddenly greedy for clarity, wisdom, and answers; I’m after some kind of transcendence and communion with something bigger than myself, what I often call the bigger architecture that buffets our lay-over on planet earth.
I know, that’s a lot to lay on a hundred acres of woods and stream. Thanks Thoreau.
But the world feels like a runaway train right now and I’m grasping at anything that will help me make sense of it, help me figure out what role I’m called to play, help me wrestle down my fear long enough to be useful, hopeful. The more that I push for this place to give me answers or serenity on demand, the less I’m able to mute my pinwheeling mind to hear anything in the echo chamber of my head. Nature is supposed to hold respite, I think, throwing a dash of disappointment and panic to the mix. There is nothing calming here, nothing comforting. Maybe I just don’t “get it,” maybe it’s not you, Nature, it’s me.
Up ahead the path forms a slight elbow with the brook. There’s a breach in the ice and snow where water spills over humps of frozen rocks. The light, that damn wizarding light, draws me eye again; it turns the water into pools of gold.
I carefully make my way to the edge and stop. I stand there staring at the brook. Not only do I find that I can’t dredge up a single thing that is more important to think about than the snow, the ice, the pines, the light, but I find that I have no desire to stir the pot. That’s it, that’s everything. Pump the breaks. Stop. Shut it down. The Indigo Girls were right: the hardest to learn is the least complicated. Stupid, awesome evolved Lesbians.
I wait until I can’t brave the cold a second further before dislodging my feet from the snow and turning to head back down the trail. A few steps onto the path and I feel the gears of my mind grind to a start once again. That’s okay. I’m not leaving with answers, but I am holding the thread in my hand that will lead me through the maze to find them.
I mash through the snow as quickly as I can without wiping out. The December sun slips lower in the sky, its thinning beams follow me like a ghost as I leave the woods behind and head home.