A winter walk taps into engaging energies of renewal, focus, and just plain wonder!
Today, as I often do, I went for a walk in the nature of the preserve next door. I can, if I choose, walk the same trail every day for weeks and be confident that my experience will be different every time. It may vary depending on the time and temperature, the depth of the snow, the birds I see, the amount of snow on hemlock boughs, or which animal left new tracks, but I’m never sure what will grab my attention.
A walk will only be redundant or boring if I am in my own mind distracted instead of allowing myself to be awake in nature. Usually though, my senses are on alert for whatever particular lesson or experience nature has on the agenda for the day. It often then becomes a game of tug-of-war between lightness of “just being” versus finding parables and inserting myself to find parallels in my life.
Sight typically is the overwhelming sense that we engage on nature walks and in life in general. This usually comes at the expense of our other senses, which are too easily and often ignored. On today’s walk, though, my sense of sight is the last one to catch a clue.
As I hike, my sense of hearing registers a raspy hollow crunch of ice as I hastily stomp down the trail and across streams. My nose notices a musty exhale of soaked leaves and mud that clings to my boots as I pull them out from muck below the frozen surface. My toes feel the chill of icy water seeping into my less-than-perfect water-proofed footwear, thereby registering a complaint about my lack of awareness of what I am missing.
Finally, I submit to the clamoring of clues and allow my eyes to see what all the fuss is about.
Almost immediately…..I’m swept away by water.
Over the next 30 minutes or so I allow myself to be moved deeply while barely moving. This is completely appropriate because it turns out that ice is on nature’s agenda, and it also seems to be moving like crazy without moving at all.
In the days before my walk, Maine had been hit by a heavy rain, and then a hard freeze. The water flowing in creeks and ditches had a message for those willing to read it. It had pulsed and fought the surging cold just long enough to allow energy itself to be frozen.
Reacting the way I do when I come across a deer in the woods, I stop all movement. I’m content to study the ice and allow my mind to skate on it.
For a while I succeed in just being a witness to great art.
All too soon, my defensives begin to get a bit shaky, and unfortunately my mind begins to think.
I become acutely aware of impermanence. The ice in front of me was sure to melt, break, or be covered by snow tomorrow, but at this moment, it was expressing the space it occupied and the energy it held in the most exquisite manner possible. I think for a minute about the wisdom in that approach to everyday living, and how great it would be if maybe we all were a little more like ice in this way. Maybe the cold is getting to me?
Movement, change, light, growth and decay are the lifeblood of nature. I find comfort in understanding that this lifeblood can be soothing as well as harsh. Ice reminds me of movement that’s frozen in place or moving so slowly as to be imperceptible to the human eye. Maybe for an obvious reason, I’m reminded of the world’s excruciatingly slow progress in shifting from dependency on nonrenewable energy and our cultures indulgence and arrogance in our high energy use.
Yesterday I saw a “post” from a friend who resented getting a notice from his electric company informing him that his electricity use was one of the highest in his areas. He chose instead to claim pride in his usage, claim it was no ones’ business, and state his dogged intent to be in the top 1% in usage. Knowing that engaging this person in a debate on energy conservation will only make him dig in, I find hope in understanding that all ice throughout history, even in the middle of major ice fields before human-induced warming, melted at some point.
Thaws in cold wars, thaws in grudges, thaws in dead-locked negotiations, thaws in frozen common sense.
Needing a change of scenery, I proceed down the trail to the next exhibit hall, or in this case, the next stream crossing along the trail.
The shift works and again I’m rewarded again with a long and glorious session of simple-mindedness in looking at ice.
Having been squatting down for a while, I change position to encourage circulation to move into my left foot, and instead imagination flows in. I see images of the sea, land, and sky, in motion. The ice reveals storm whipped waves breaking over rocks. A marshmallow man flying through the sky among clouds with a bird over his head. A huge headed lobster. A slug playing a violin.
I notice the outline of two faces, ears, nose, eyebrows, chin, cheek, in deep serious conversation….no doubt regarding what to do about climate change. I lean in as if to see if they had any recommendations regarding what I should say to my clueless friend. When I do, I break through the ice along the stream edge, dislodging the “canvas” containing the two faces. I watch as they float downstream bumping into obstacles and finally coming to rest against another icy masterpiece.
Having done my part to reinforce the concepts of transience and impermanence, I stand up with a sense of accomplishment and take a deep breathe.
On the walk back, I think more about the locked energies of nature, and internalize it to think about it on a personal level. I appreciate that my walks in nature create for me boundless and endless renewable energies of positive outlook, peaceful well-being, energized activism, and a sharpened ability to focus.
Nature comes through for me again, as it always does.