Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Fresh Look at Winter

Happy New Year, everyone! (2010).

I wanted to share this story with you while I prepare to enjoy the new snowfall promised us over the first weekend of the new year and into the next week.

This is a piece I wrote about two years ago, in March when the season was getting ready to change. It reflects my first or second winter home after being in tropical climates for the past ten years. I was so worried about how I would adapt and yet, God opened my eyes to all its beauty. See the end of the season through Buddy and my eyes...
A Fresh Look at Winter
Home never seemed like exotic foreign soil before. Then again, I never walked with my best friend through a wooded landscape in mid-winter experiencing every phase of snow that comes with it. It’s as if I’m experiencing everything for the first time -- the look and feel of the trees, the array of sounds emanating from the many branches, the beauty of the deer, the screech of the hawk and the feeling of serenity found within its borders. Wrapped in a warm parka, inner and outer scarves, gloves, a cap and boots, my Black Lab and I savor the rich culture we encounter each time we stroll through the stretch of land near my home. I feel exactly as if I’ve been detailed out to an unfamiliar yet beautiful country.

First of all, we’re in our own little world as we walk. Except for the driver of a single red car that passes us each morning on his route to work, we rarely encounter other people or wild creatures so we feel free to roam. I unleash Buddy and he leaps off the road, diving into snow banks, flying across fields, up hills and out of sight. I, too, feel liberated. I can even lie down and make snow angels! So often I taste the snowflakes tickling me. Light and airy, they trickle down from my eyes and cheeks numbing my face and making my nose run. A few minutes later, Buddy races over to me, his snout wet and frost-covered. Panting with delight, he tilts his face upward and swallows gigantic snowflakes. Who is there to see our abandon? The solitude and our exploration of the area leave us breathless.

Sometimes after a refreshing snowfall we come across deer markings. Buddy leans in close to catch their scent as I examine the height, width and shape of the marks. In deep snow, Buddy prefers to wade along the deer’s snow wake instead of venturing out on his own. As interlopers on their native territory, we acknowledge the local population without changing it.

Lately, I have begun to analyze the deer’s tracks. Other ‘natives’ may learn to read them from an early age but like any foreign language I must consciously study it and then go out and apply what I’ve learned. Some tracks are perfectly heart-shaped while others resemble delicate curvy quotation marks. I can now predict what direction the deer are moving and if they are traveling fast or slow by their markings. Just this morning I found tracks in my driveway. I like to think the deer are as curious about Buddy and me as we are about them.

As March comes to an end the edges of the large pond we pass begin to thin, although at midpoint the ice remains firm. Dirty slush heaps up in ugly mounds at the side of the road replacing the feathery-white snow we love to wander through. Some days thick sloppy mud sucks at the treads of my boots. Blue streaks peek through the perpetual gray skies, and the threat of bursting from our warm familiar cocoon looms over us. The sounds we’ve become most accustomed to – train whistles, bare branches moaning in the wind, snow crunching underfoot, the zoom of airplanes flying above, a woodpecker’s knock, and the hawk’s cry -- have served to tie us to my homeland. But it won’t be ours alone anymore. As the weather progressively improves, I know groups of fishermen, more vehicles, and chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons along with the white-tail deer will join us on our solitary path.

When spring arrives, Buddy will come alive barking at the many dogs he encounters as we change routes and the solitude fades. Winding the leash around my wrists I’ll have to drag him away from the source of his growling, woofing frenzy as I attempt to motivate him to go ‘my’ way. I must stand by on constant alert, ready to deal with moving vehicles, kids, adults, and wild creatures of all kinds.

Thinking of the remnants of snow caked on Buddy’s snout, the fresh deer tracks we’ve come to cherish, and the newly forged paths we initiate as a light curtain of white envelops us, I wish winter could continue forever. Like time standing still, I feel protected in the center of that glass sphere people pick up to shake and the soap flakes flutter all about. The unrealistic desire to stop time seems entirely plausible when I replay the pleasure we have on our winter walks.

God has led me to appreciate the unique sights and culture of a foreign country within my own backyard. Through His extraordinary binoculars, Buddy and I have seen new vistas up close. It’s as if we’ve danced under an exquisite sky of feathery white fine particles. The white-tail deer seem as exotic to us as the snowfall is common to you. As Buddy and I attempt to interpret the language of the deer and listen to the sounds of the hawk cry in the forest while a train whistles nearby and snow drips “Plop! Plop! Plop!” from spindly branches, we enjoy God’s world that much more.

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