This week, winter arrived: heavy, thick, constant snowfall. Huge flakes cannonballing down from the sky, streaking down one after another. The result is piles and piles of fresh snow. After spending multiple days cooped up indoors, I decide it is time to get into it: time to take a good, long walk, in which to think, pray and be utterly silent.
I start off down familiar roads. The whispering winter wind is aiming all of the falling snow straight ahead. I listen to it, and keep striding straight.
When it’s time to choose between left or right, I notice a ringing sound in my right ear, and I hear an airplane landing and a dog barking, in that same direction. I choose left, and continue walking up a hill, past a roadside cluster of trees.
The deciduous trees are entirely naked now. Their spindly fingerlike branches reach to the sky in permanent supplication. They are absolutely vulnerable, totally and authentically themselves, exposed to these harsh winter conditions with no protection. Foolishly, they stay in this position, unprotected, unclothed, while snow falls. Like idiots, they raise their hands to the sky, and they wait. They anticipate. And yet, this posture is entirely reasonable. They are completely within-reason to wait for absolute and total renewal. They are right. After this period of time, they will be overcome again with life. The only task for them now is to stay exposed, remain patient, and wait for the bloom of spring.
I wonder, do I have the patience to stay authentic and the reasonable-ness to expect things to bloom?
My boots scrape along the ground. For reasons of cost saving, I am wearing my mother-in-law’s old snowboots. They are furry and flourishy. They scuff along the gravel-and-snow covered roads, and a line appears in my head: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”
I wonder, how might my own feet be part of carrying good news?
“Vision limited,” says a road sign, advising drivers to slow to 30. The hill is blind. I remove my hat so my ears can hear better: traffic, yes, and then I hear the birds I had been missing. I have to walk through snowdrifts to avoid drivers in the snow. Drivers wave at me as they passed me wading in the winter piles.
I wonder, how long must we go slow? When will have unlimited vision?
Into the driving snow. Hat on, hood up, gloves on, head down, glasses speckled with snow. It’s hard to be attentive when the conditions aren’t friendly. It’s time to simply march onward.
By this time, I’m thinking the route I’ve taken is too long. Getting back home will be too time consuming. I start wondering about shortcuts.
I plot the roads I’m on, and realize that if I were to cut through some neighbour’s property, I could end up on the backside of ours. I make a choice, and scramble down a snowy bank at the right time, to cut through the forest, and find the creek that will lead me to home.
The snow here is deeper than I could have imagined. It’s up to my knees, and getting inside my boots. I am able to follow animal tracks down an abandoned logging road. It’s downhill, and yet it’s quickly making me out of breath.
I choose a pathway that takes me into an unclear forest, with no animal tracks. The snow is deep here. So deep it feels like one of those slow-moving dreams where your body can’t function as your brain tells it to move. The snow is up to my waist, and I’m crawling over these mountainous drifts in my jeans. This has not been a shortcut. This is an adventure. This is much harder work, but this is better.
The only way forward is through the forest. Animal tracks scatter. This is a forest that hasn’t been visited by humans in many years. It is a space in between neighbour’s properties; the current occupants never come down here. And yet signs show it was all once one cohesive whole: I know it belonged to a settler named George Whelan. Without these property lines and fences, the road I followed would still connect from one end to the other. It was the throughline I was following.
I kept close to the creek, and just when it seems the giant piles of snow won’t abate, the snow solidifies. I can walk on it without dropping to my knees. Surreally, I see a small bridge up ahead, covered in snow. A footbridge, as if it were a relic from the realm of Narnia. I see blue ribbons tied to silver birch trees.
When I leave this semi-civilized area, the snow resumes its sinking-sand tricks. I march and slog and lift and huff, I swamp and trudge and push and slomp through the endless snow. My legs are soaking, my furry boots full. I am still only halfway to home.
The next part, the forest gets denser. I find another mysterious, abandoned footbridge. I leap across the creek in another spot. Until finally, I arrive at the fence that marks the beginning of our own property. I step up onto it, avoid the barbed wire, and land on two feet in the snow below. Home.
The walk back up to my house seems longer than the path I had taken to get here so far. Though the house is in sight, the snow is no less deep. My legs are colder now, and more tired. The journey still has to continue. Is it true that sometimes the times we are most tired are when we are closest to home?
Partway up the last hill, Kendra calls my phone to see where I am. I huff and pant as I tell her the story of my adventures, until we can finally wave to each other through the windows.
So much was seen and learned during this unplanned excursion. My body was grateful for the push and the slog. The eyes delighted in the sights I had taken in.
This backwoods Narnia had once been one land, integrated and connected. A sliver of exposed, rusty irrigation pipe on one neighbour’s property is clearly of the same shape and design as the one I can see buried on our own land. Those two footbridges once helped connect a walking trail. The logging road helped criss-cross the large acreage. The creek was the waterline for it all. If seen in a new light, all these fences are arbitrary, and the whole area is one, connected greenspace. An unofficial regional park in our own backyard, unvisited and unacknowledged by any of its occupants.
I wonder, what would it mean to erase dividing lines and reclaim shared spaces? What is waiting for us to discover in the un-explored spaces between our neighbours?
The pivot off the paved road and into the forest proved not to be a quick way home, but rather, a clear plunge into rediscovering a sort of pioneering way. What does it look like to take adventures, not shortcuts?
It leaves me with this wish for us all after that long winter walk:
May we listen to the whispers of winter. May we wait in authentic anticipation for total renewal — and find it to be reasonable. May we carry good news, persisting though our vision is limited. May we veer off course and find adventurous new paths, through forgotten roads, forging new ways. We may bring new harmony to divided lands, and return home exhausted from having taken worthy roads.