Skies are the drama in long winter. Through the windows, from the doorways, or walking down the driveway with Bodhi Dog, their variant beauty is subtle from occasion to observation. These days in the mornings, the east sun climbs higher and an angle of sunlight strikes within the house at a raking sweep, which confirms that the season is moving. The mighty weight of dust in this old house stirs for its asthmatic effect to swirl in the most mesmerizing ebbs and flows as the light stirs air, otherwise invisible in the stillness of the rooms.
Some days have bright opalescent white skies; others a clear cerulean blue as frigid as the air itself. On disturbed days, it rains, freezes, rains and then snows, turning all to ice in the most hazardous beauty imaginable. The farm house, as always, a wonderland; something found through the cupboard from the Land of Narnia and a vision created by the pen of C.S. Lewis. Lewis could see clearly and transform so simply with a grace of wit and wisdom the profound essence of ordinary life, transform it into magic and translated magic into the grand themes that haunt our desires and temper our wills with vision.
The secret, of course, is that art imitates life. From the study window, I watch the old willow in all seasons. Its life force is magnificent. On fanciful excursions, I see in its branches and leaves ancient dragons, whose spirit animates extraordinary strength rising from the deep spring beneath it. The spring waters are present even in the depth of winter, where the ground remains visible and slightly steaming in the freeze. But at this moment, the ground is covered in crystalline white by the frigid event set upon us these past days. The hidden lake, formed by the stream and crowned by the willow, presents as a bowled depression crisscrossed by deep blue branch shadows, only hinting at the truth beneath the seemingly tranquil still of a winter day.
I intentionally imagine when leaves are transparent and tender green; when the willow seems a dancer; when the breezes stir and its massive strength appears delicate. It is stunning and lovely when happening, but such a wistful memory when clinging to the hope of spring buried in ice and cold.
Other times are pure observation, as Willow’s dried and dead old branches rise and fall with creaking tensile strength in the wind storms that roar along the surface of the river, down from the hills, and deliver to us exciting performance from the skies. Minor failings and broad patterns form in a swatch of inter-meshed fallen twigs and branches broken off, scattered over the lawn sticking up from the snow. Left to their own devices over time, I imagine they would root and extend the marsh, marching toward the willow in some ancient memory of a stream once flowing directly into the river.
I imagine summer, Wind in the Willows, and Toad Hall rising above the mighty mound of ground at its base. Groundhogs, voles, squirrels become weasels, and I become Toad, entranced and obsessed by glittering changes that defy tradition and are at once the luxuriant product of its privilege. Such is the narcissism of imagination on a solitary winter’s day!
Nights are even more magical. Standing in a thicket of wet, heavy, fast falling snow is delightful. Bodhi Dog loves it too. He always hurries to ‘make the donuts’ in the early hour so that he can devote his pokey return to the delicious habit of eating fresh snow drifts. Who would have thought that a little Alabama native would so love the cold and snow? Well, actually, I can .
It is particularly wonderful in the nether hours when we have moonlight. The long sweeps of lawn literally sparkle with tens of thousands of tiny dazzling crystals that appear and disappear as one moves along. Last night had one of those skies that poets and romantics describe as velvety, inky, blue/black, filled with a scattering of diamonds and jewels; some twinkling with red, others blue, still some others yellow. They are right. That’s exactly how it appeared. What no artist can capture however, is the vast dimension of the experience. Only mathematical poetry can apply its amazing detail to the wonders of the heavens, and most of us are silent in the intelligent languages of theoretical physics.
As I get older and more satiated with worldly experience, it will do to be amazed like a naif in the night when first encountering the mystic presence of living trees, which seem so different in the energy field than they do in daytime. Less an intellect and more a shaman in these latter days, I bow to wonder.
The solstice celebrations were serene, beautifully orchestrated with decorating projects gleaned from the dried abundance of the marsh, woods, and autumn gardens. The three of us so enjoyed the rich quiet celebration, divorced from family drama and buried in the snowy peace. All was made even more precious to the memory, knowing that such tumultuous change was coming over the land, over us all, and effecting wrenching transition for us personally. Our last winter here—-a reflective one.
The measure of death, of a mother and sister, has come forth out of that shock we know as the ‘blank’, and its raw emotion of loss seeps through our ordinary days and floods us with the painful mysteries of love and attachment that we carry in abundance as adults. That is not to say we don’t also celebrate the joyful mysteries that deep affection and better times also raise up in the flux of want.
During the hours, little celebrations occur in the simple matrix of a usual day, in moments of laughter, occasions of fun and companionship. In such a frame of mind, there are often moments when an overwhelming sense of poignancy arises. It’s difficult to explain such a feeling, but the Japanese language calls it, 'aware’ (pronounced: ah'waa'ray)—a mixture of joy and sorrow delicately interwoven, exquisitely balanced, and a reflex of powerful transience.
Sometimes I see him from the study window going about some chore or other, thinking himself solitary and at ease. He seems older, slightly bent over, limping, free to reveal his pain while thought alone—- a moment of true presence completely at odds with the public persona of vigor and bonhomie. Those unawares moments are so laden with the wisdom of experience.
The same thing happened the other day, while waiting inside the car on a shopping run. A young person walked by, seemingly untouched by spoilage, experience of evil, or the weight of betrayal—just starting out. I nearly wept. Often I catch Bodhi Dog curled up, eyes shut softly tight, and sleeping soundly—he looks so tiny, completely safe in his trust of us. Something stirs deeply in me at those times; a mystery of powerful love, whose name I cannot not fathom. If men had menopause, I’m sure I’d qualify. Perhaps the old monk in me reclaims his avocation at the end.