(About snow, confrontation, serenity, trash, beauty, and peace)
I hope it snows soon. I mean, really snows. We’ve had snow in Goodale Park recently, but it was the standard Columbus fare (an inch or so – an amount that we people from Wisconsin call a “dusting”).
In Columbus, it’s rarely worth breaking out the snow shovel during winter; I typically use a broom to sweep the snow out of the way. Most of the time, plowing or shoveling this quantity of snow amounts to over-engineered effort, as if encounters with snow were confrontations.
But snow rarely seeks a confrontation with me. Instead, it typically provides me with emotional and spiritual benefits when present in the “proper” quantity and form. For the past several winters, we have managed to get at least a week or two of proper snow, providing for brief but satisfying rituals like sledding down our tiny hill on the north end of Goodale Park, building snowmen, and walking at night with the moon and snow illuminating the way.
For me, the calming side of snow is captured in a cozy poem by E.S. Dross:
I pull the snow up to my chin
to tuck into winter
and sometimes I pull it all the way
over my head
so I can hide under it like the earth does
when it sleeps.
Rest and sleep remind me of two of the best gifts that snow provides to me: an invitation to deeper contemplation and a superficial salve. Like the heavy brocade drapes in our living room, snow dampens sound. I experience a sense of serenity and solitude walking at night in the deep, powdery snow when the air is silent. The snow breathes in the sounds of the highway and the city, and it never exhales. The crunch of my boots in the snow and my breath behind the wet wool scarf wrapped around my face becomes a methodical meditation, a prayer. Early the next morning, the repetitive scrape of my shovel on the sidewalk, set against the silence of the neighborhood, provides a winter mantra that unties my unconscious mind and sets it free to drift.
Like a thick coat of paint, snow covers the dirt, the leaves that I failed to rake, and the cigarette butts, dog poop, and other detritus that has frozen onto our tree lawn. Like most physical beauty, it exists only on the surface, thinly veiling the complexity of debris beneath it. The snow accomplishes this for us silently and unbidden, and it becomes the pristine rug that voluntarily settles gently over the dirt. Like a balm, or a couple of chocolate bars, or a glass of Ardbeg in front of a wood fire, it allows me to forget work, renovation, laundry, and parenting for a while, and simply “be”. I believe that I am responsible for creating much of this loud, clanging life that surrounds me. When a change in orientation or perspective can whisk this away, I am reminded of the calm that I am inexplicably willing to relinquish in exchange for busy-ness.
This reminds me of a week I spent in silence at a monastery in Kentucky. When I arrived, I saw someone sitting in a chair on a hill outside the Abbey, and I thought that I’d like to sit there, but I didn’t want to be weird and plop down next to him. I waited, then went inside, and when I came out to look, he was still up there. He was there again fifty minutes later, and I thought, “He doesn’t even have a book to read; he’s just sitting there!”
I had trouble understanding how he could sit so serenely without anything to do. At this point I was not consciously aware of the jabber jabber jabber of thoughts and conversations in my mind keeping me focused on “doing” and “thinking”. But after two days of silence and meditation, I found myself at the end of a long walk sitting in that same spot in the chair on the hill for over an hour, effortlessly doing nothing but “being”. I realized in retrospect that my mind had quieted. At these rare times, I feel as though I simply “am”. My soul is at peace.
For me, snow can often provide a shorter path to solitude and to “being”. And I could use a measure of those qualities right now. In addition to some chaos at work and several incomplete house-related projects, there is one more solitude-hungry element on the horizon: my mother-in-law moves in with us next week.
I hope it snows soon. I mean, really soon.
The Sesquipedalian Dumpster Diver