It is undeniably, certifiably, (to quote the munchkins in my all time favorite movie) deep winter here. The temperature is well below freezing and a light snow is falling. Just a moment ago the coyotes began to howl: “A party, we’re having a party”, they seem to say. Now a few dogs on the hill are barking their response to these distant cousins: “Yes, thank you, we’d join you if we could!”
There is really only one way to weather the winter well, and that is to embrace it. Peter, that lucky boy, will now spend his Friday afternoons skiing with his classmates, today being their first day on the slopes. It is an inspired addition to the academics which is, of course, eagerly embraced by the students. I chose today for my first walk of any distance on my repaired ankle; a mile each way. I stopped midway for a spot of tea with Mary and Raleigh, and by the time I turned back home, the sun had set. It was pure magic walking up the hill in the snow lit twilight, and I was so happy to be back to my old walking ways.
Early yesterday, when I drove Peter to his bus stop (alas, it is not within walking distance), the sun was just coming up. Halfway down the hill, we were both startled by an animal perhaps a hundred yards ahead that shot across the road in a blur of dark fur. When we came to the spot where it had crossed, there was no sign of it. I decided that on the return trip, I would stop and look for tracks.
Across the lake, the sky was a gorgeous rosy hue, which in turn stained the snow and the ice pink. It was all just so delicious, I wanted to take a bite out of the morning.
On the way back home, I stopped at the place where the mystery animal had crossed to look for clues to its identity. This is one of my favorite aspects of winter; the ability to actually see a record of an animal’s passage. There were days old deer prints and those of a squirrel, but the freshest tracks led right to a large tree. On closer examination I could see the impression of sharp claws. It was likely a fisher cat that we had seen.
I never tire of the variety of wildlife whose habitat we are sharing. The day before, our dog Buddy and I had flushed out a ruffled grouse. Buddy was beside himself with all of the little tracks in the snow, and I watched in fascination as he sniffed along the trail of a mouse. It was as if he were reading braille with his nose, and I envied him the information that he was gathering. I also stopped to examine an enormous hole that had been carved perhaps twenty feet up the trunk of a large white pine. For several days a pileated woodpecker had been hammering with his beak at the punky wood in search of carpenter ants.
We are also visited by a handful of deer each evening. They dig through the snow with their noses and forelegs in search of the acorns beneath a large oak tree. Last week I followed their tracks through the woods and saw where they had bedded down the night before, the imprint of each of their bodies melted in the snow.
Even now, in what is often referred to as the dead of winter, it is all so alive. I find myself marveling, yet again, at what a privilege it is to be here.
Not long after my diagnosis I suddenly understood the answer to an age old riddle. What, exactly, is the meaning of life? Suddenly it was so obvious. It was, simply…life. From that moment on, I determined that I would never again take this wondrous thing, this precious yet fleeting gift, for granted. Here’s to life.