Winter Walking: A Brief Sketch
Snowflakes cluster thickly on my eyelashes as I stand, blinking in astonishment at the change a snowfall brings to the familiar aspects of my world. Everything seems both sharpened and softened. Odd, the things I notice...and the things I should notice but don't.
At first glance, all is frozen and still. All but the dancing flakes and the quick flash of a blue jay's plumage as he flies to shelter in the cedars. But as I look more closely, I become aware of the movement and life that surrounds me, unseen, but no less busy or purposeful.
A long step carries me over the fence that is shorter now, since the big oak came down on top of it, and I am in the scrubby cedar hedgerow. There before me, delicately outlined in last week's un-melted snow, are the tracks of a cottontail. I trace its path as it hopped along, leaving that distinctive dash-dot trail to mark progress. Here's where it must have paused for a bit and done whatever it is rabbits do in the snow. I also pause for a bit and look out at the world from beneath the snow-heavy cedar boughs.
To hear most people talk, the invasive, scrub cedar is the chief bane of life. But to me, our cedar groves are just a little bit special. I feel a safety when I sit with my back to a shaggy cedar trunk, where I may watch goings-on through a fragrant screen of drooping limbs and know that no-one else will notice me. To me, cedars are a symbol of safety. They are home. They are the memories of my childhood, and the spicy scent alone is enough to bring pleasant thoughts to my mind. Today, though, I don't particularly reflect on any of those things. I merely relish the peace, the security, even a sensation of coziness (despite the cold), and an incomparable view of the rolling fields and rough-edged tree lines of Missouri farm country. Snow scenes, I decide, are most pleasantly viewed through a curtain of cedar boughs.
I've brought my camera with me, hoping to capture something of all this transient beauty.Whether the camera serves as an excuse for the walk, or vice versa, I do not know, nor, in all probability, does it matter. I haven't taken many pictures lately and I've begun to worry that I might be losing my 'touch', but the camera feels balanced and familiar in my hands. This is good; this zooming in and a little way back out, this adjusting of focus and settings, this maneuvering to get just the right angle.
I focus first on the cedar trees, hoping to capture a sense of the safety I feel when I sit in their shelter. How exactly does a person go about capturing 'safety'? I don't know. I never know. I just...feel. So I maneuver and shoot until I've got something that might be right and then I move on to the larger picture. I want to capture it all: the stark serenity, the way the landscape fades imperceptibly from reality into nothingness, the delicacy of snowflakes in midair, the snow-color that is grey and white and blue with tawny fronds of grass half buried at the lower edge. But I can't. There is something here that will evade capture, and that element is, of course, what makes the experience itself so worthwhile.
My fingers gradually lose all feeling, thereby rendering further photographic attempts an impossibility. I fumble my camera back into its bag, but I'm not ready to go indoors just yet. I stand very still, eyes closed, listening. There is a breeze sifting quietly through the trees, and the soft patter of snowfall that defies all accurate description. It is a whisper, a secret of the very nicest kind. It is, I think, the sound of peace. The flakes melt on my face like small, cold kisses. Or tears. And that is all, and I am very cold.
There's a hot drink waiting back at the house.
Retracing my trail, I notice that the snow has already begun to erase my tracks. They will most likely be invisible by morning; the surface of the snow as pristine as though I'd never come and gone.