It’s a bitter, raw day here in the Big Indian Wilderness. It’s only 11 degrees, and with the biting wind it feels like -7; even from inside the house those bitter winds are biting at me. The landscape is bleak, harrowed by icy winds, and life is almost completely submerged out my windows. Even the sky is bled of color. Even the sun, so very bright, is bled of color.
Just now I was standing at the kitchen sink, looking out all the windows that surround me, and I felt a bit of sinking within myself, a sense of steeling myself, of realizing that I have to learn how to live against this, and all at once a completely different idea came into me, full-sized and wholly alive. I won’t say my first idea was wrong, but I will say that it’s on a parallel track to a very different way.
This isn’t something to be gotten through, to bear, to resist within myself, even if I hunker down inside layers of clothes and get to my car as quickly as I can, my shoulders hunched up to my ears. Even if I sit near the fire and try to get warm because the house is so cold. Even then, the parallel track is available if I can hold onto it.
What the shift requires is a larger perspective, a sense of the Earth, a sense of what this season means for the year as a whole, for the cycle as a whole. What’s happening inside and underneath that bleakness. That we are approaching the solstice, the earth is turning hard as iron, water becoming stone, as it does and always has and will. So I watch in wonder as the days get so very short, as the sun never reaches the western end of my valley, and I will peer into that valley, all those days it’s too icy to go into it, and watch as the sun slowly extends its reach, day after day, a minute or two longer each day.
I will watch in wonder as the birds do what they will over this particular season. Three days ago, goldfinches arrived at the bird feeder and we hadn’t yet seen them — so either the call has gone out that food is available here, or they’ve just arrived in my valley — and now I wonder how the populations will shift as the cold weather becomes more serious.
So this isn’t a series of weeks and months to resist, an aberration, a hardship. (Well, it can still be a hardship.) This is life in this wilderness, life in the Catskill Mountains, life in the northern part of the United States, life in the northern part of the hemispheres, life on Earth. (And I’m glad I’ll be in southeast Asia in February, and in Austin in March….because a Texan might need to ease into the fullness of this knowledge.)