A New Relationship to Snow

I live in the mountains, but I haven’t always.  I spent most of my life living beside the ocean.  When I moved to the mountains twenty years ago, I had very little familiarity with snow.  Those first few winters, I was immersed and quickly educated on the reality of snow.  “Pretty on a postcard, but practically problematic” (from a poem I wrote).  Mine has been an evolving relationship with snow.  At first, I found it exciting, then daunting.  Beautiful and restrictive.  Enchanting and unpleasant.

Today, it is welcome (though not to the point of overwhelm) and appreciated.  For I understand the wisdom of snow.  How it coaches us to quiet ourselves, to slow our pace, to go within.  How it frosts the trees, covers the earth, seeps into the ground.  How it facilitates the fruiting of trees and the flowering of plants and the impetus of underground bulbs.  Is everything a metaphor?  Do we make it so?

There is poetic beauty in the first light snowfall, the large unique flakes that sift like fairy feathers lit by the back porch light.  That mesmerizing whirl of flakes that can put one into a trancelike state.  The deep quiet that is induced when the snow is softly falling. The first waking to a snow-blanketed world, the sweet shock of it all.

Then there is the impasse that deep snow creates.  The waiting for the snowplow to clear the roads.  More waiting for the men to come and shovel my driveway and pathways.  There is no going anywhere fast.  And if you dare to walk when its icy, be sure to wear your shoe chains.  Once, despite wearing shoe chains, I slipped.  I was carrying a cup of coffee from the local cafe.  I held that cup high in the air as I slid and fell to my knees.  I did not spill one single drop of that cup of coffee.

Hot foods, soups, warm grogs, hot chocolate are appreciated more when the weather is cold and there is confining snow.  Soup sipped and bread broken with friends adds to the warmth of the wood fire.

These days, the wisdom of snow supersedes everything for me. Following the last several summers of smoke and fires, I’m so grateful for the snow that soaks, saturates, nourishes the trees and the earth and every living creature.  The snowmelt that feeds our springs, raises our water table.  While there have been times that I desired an “easy winter,” now I’m grateful when winter behaves like winter.

Winter is a time of gestation on many levels.  We aren’t meant to plunge on ahead and force growth.  It is wise to slow down, integrate our experiences and be present with the slow growth of our own wisdom.

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thoughts on snow from an early journal:

Today, there is finally snow!  I have to say that my whole body has been waiting for the relief of snow.  Something in me was holding my breath, waiting, anticipating, leaning into as if I were frozen in the form of someone about to dive, but unable to.  Not until that first exhale of new snow falling–then I could breathe deeply once again.  I appreciate that there’s nowhere to get to this morning.  That I don’t need an excuse to stay in and cook, or paint (or if I get to it, sorting and organizing).  Maybe I’ll begin writing that book that I want to write…or daydream a bit.

 

Bear with me…

Having lived in Mount Shasta for three years, I continued to feel like a stranger in a strange land.  As if I had fallen into a life and world that were so foreign to me.  Following is an excerpt from a journal written in 2002…

Tonight after dark, I walked the loop road around my wild new neighborhood.  Tree spectres, star navigators, I felt like an orphan returned to her original home, finally and afraid.  I didn’t know this terrain.  I knew huddled box houses, concrete, asphalt-paved city streets, skyscrapers,  city lights and the sound of foghorns.  Now, living in the mountains, I walked along snow-berm lined roads and felt out of place in the deep quiet that is induced by snow.  I looked to the stars for guidance, but didn’t grow up reading them.  Foggy nights and shuttered windows allowed neither awareness of the stars nor the sun’s rising and retreating.  Is it too late for me to become familiar with nature in her rawness?  Aren’t I the daughter of this more truly than anything…or anyone?

Though the road was partially lit by a slightly waning moon, I carried a flashlight.  I had chosen to move here, to be so displaced.   Even with this yearning to connect with nature, I was surprised by a lurking fear.  What strange stalking beast might be watching me?  Yes, there are bears, mountain lions and bobcats here.  A few barking dogs raced down paths to announce themselves…and me.

A few days ago, at Castle Lake, there were about ten fish, trout I think, about 12″ long, each one laid neatly at the base of a pine tree around which a circumference of snow had melted.  The fish lay dead, intertwined, resembling a celtic knot.  A single fish laid a few trees away.  Where do fish go in winter when this mountain lake freezes over to a depth of several feet?  How did this neat pile of preserved fish get here?  Away from the water on a higher plane–the water hadn’t risen that high.  A mystery.

Were the fish, a bear’s bounty abandoned perhaps when s/he was unexpectedly intruded upon?  A bear who fished the lake before it froze, laid them in a neat design beneath the tree and then was driven off by a hunter, perhaps?  Or his suspicions of one?  Or was it an offering of some sort?  Or perhaps a bear scared a fisherman off…but then why did he leave the fish?  The cluster of fish frozen beneath all of that snow for weeks and now a temporary melting and no bear to claim this defrosted bounty.

I’d written a mini-writing workshop to share with a circle of friends about winter–exploring their feelings–about this one in particular.  This winter had lavishly dumped 90-inches of snow over our town in less than one month!  That’s a lot of snow to move around to clear pathways, driveways and streets.  Berms grew and city streets were narrowed, slushy and hard to navigate.  A precarious and often impossible situation.  Some days, I stayed  home and checked the weather reports regularly, looking towards a break.  Emerging into January, a new year, temperatures rose to the 40’s and rain fell for two weeks dissolving some of the berms.  And then, a dry spell, a few visible sunsets causing a body to halt in her routine to witness the translucent alpenglow on the mountain.  The beauty, ah yes, I remember why I moved here.  Such breathtaking beauty and nature pounding down the door.

Really, though, what does any of this rambling have to do with bear?  Or abandoned fish?  Or my winter themed writing workshop?  Only everything!  Terry Tempest Williams and other writers of our times, have likened the hibernating bear to the in-dwelling hidden deep feminine!  The introspective cave dweller.  The female bear who births her young in the spring.  Winter gestations, hibernations, cave dwelling–not to be feared but appreciated for allowing one the time and space it takes to gestate, find her voice and create.  Isn’t that what I’m doing here?  In Mount Shasta?  According to Williams…if you should meet this bear in the wild, open your blouse and show that you’re a woman and you will be allowed to pass unharmed, so the story goes.  And where has my cat wandered to after hours?  It’s well past closing time.  I hope she hasn’t encountered a bear.

And tonight, when I told my lover let’s lay in silence for awhile, “Let’s not talk,” he pinned my hands and I growled like a bear in captivity.  Then he left.  I felt angry because no man could contain me any longer.  Now I have a voice and sometimes I displease a man.

 

Nowhere to Go...Dec. 2001.jpg

Soup Night

Navigating winter in the mountains, for those who don’t fly south, is an art form.  Of course, there are those who love winter sports and they are in their element.  I am not a skier, snowboarder or snowshoer–although I’ve experienced two out of the three.  For me, the challenge with winter is getting through it–overcoming the isolation which heavy snow imposes.  Travel north or south is inhibited as the highway may have restrictions.  Or, driving in a “white out” with poor visibility can be daunting.

A few winters back, when the first heavy snow hit, a depressed feeling settled over me.  Looking out my window as the large flakes whirled abundantly, I could see that soon my world would be covered in white.  While pretty on a postcard, there are the practical challenges.  I need to contact the men who shovel my driveway and walkways.  Be sure that I have enough fuel.  Is the cupboard fully stocked if we are going to have several days of snow?  Do I need to wrap the water pipes if the temperature drops too low?  Living close enough to the stores, I layer clothing,  don my hiking boots and trek through the snow and slush to get to the post office and grocery store if necessary.

This particular day, I was dicing onions and carrots for a pot of soup.  It occurred to me that I could invite friends over to share the soup.  I called about six friends.  They couldn’t promise, but they’d see how bad this storm was going to be.  One friend blatantly said, “Christine, no one’s going to come!”  However, just the thought that someone might show up spurred me on.

The invitation was “If you dare to come out tonight, I’ve got a hearty pot of soup on the back burner…bring your favorite soup bowl!”

That night, in a heavy winter storm, four people came.  The next week, there were eight of us.  By the end of the winter season, soup night had become an institution which rotated among several homes averaging ten to twelve people.  This meant we needed two pots of soup, bread, salad and occasionally dessert.  The warm feeling of sharing and communing while the world outside was enveloped in cold and white brought new meaning to winter in the mountains.