Walk in the Snow with Bear

It remains cold, below freezing, so the snow — though not freshly fallen — still powdery and perfect. I wanted to take the skis out again, but if a person can’t be fair to her dogs, what’s the point of her entire existence? (“Bear, stop putting words in my mouth!”)

Walking in snow a few inches above the ankle is a little difficult, especially when the snow doesn’t compress beneath your foot, but I was totally up to it. It was gloriously beautiful to be back out in the big empty, in the snow, with my big white dog (“I’ve waited a long time Martha!”), beneath the December sky that matches the blue and white of the mountains — the boundary between them marked by the jagged peaks of the Sangre de Cristos reaching into the watercolor-soft blue and white cloudy sky.

Bear likes to lean against me when I’m having a “moment.” I think she knows what’s going on with me. I think she understands perfectly that when I stare off to the horizon that it’s similar to me stopping and waiting as long as she needs to get the entire gist of a message. Sometimes she pulls — her messages seem, often, to carry a sense of urgency (ha ha). This is the biggest challenge. I don’t want to be pulled off balance right now. The messages I get from the sky and the mountains are quiet, reassuring affirmations of my place in the universe.

Bear found hundreds of tracks to, uh, track. Mule deer, certainly, and moose (it seems) as well as a nice patch of fox urine to roll in. She stopped to leave behind a message for her friend the fox should he pass again. My and my friend’s ski tracks rested unmolested. We only walked a mile because my foot is still not 100% and since I want nothing more than to keep skiing, I’m not going to risk anything. And, it happens, skiing is easier than walking.

The scene, this day after the solstice, was right out of John Greenleaf Whittier’s Snowbound, a long meditative poem on winter and my grandfather used to read it to my mom and her sisters and brothers every Christmas. It’s very lovely, evoking all the nostalgia and love of Christmas time, yearning for the past, endless love for those who are now only memories for us, whose stories and lives we carry around in our own lives — for good or ill or both.

The ending of the poem is exactly what I felt today, looking out at the rough snowy line of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the barren trees, the short, December light, my precious Bear leaning against my legs, my feet buried in snow. I felt grateful (again) to be in the San Luis Valley. I thought of the amazing woman I met yesterday at a Christmas concert and the equally amazing woman with whom I went. I looked at my friend’s ski tracks and remembered how much fun we had two days ago. I felt gratitude — again — to all the influences of my life that magically brought me where I am supposed to be.

The traveller owns the grateful sense 
Of sweetness near, he knows not whence, 
And, pausing, takes with forehead bare 
The benediction of the air.

If you’d like to read the whole poem, here it is. Snowbound: A Winter Idyll by John Greenleaf Whittier

December

The sun that brief December day 
Rose cheerless over hills of gray, 
And, darkly circled, gave at noon 
A sadder light than waning moon. 
Slow tracing down the thickening sky 
Its mute and ominous prophecy, 
A portent seeming less than threat, 
It sank from sight before it set. 

Snow is in the forecast (please, please, please). I don’t think a “shortest day of the year” passes without my thinking of “Snowbound” by John Greenleaf Whittier, a poem always recited by my grandfather to his family, very possibly on this day every year.

One of the things I’m fortunate about is having grown up in a family that loved poetry — both my parents. Maybe it’s one of the things that drew them together. My dad really wanted to BE a poet but he had as little aptitude for it as I ended up having for math.

I love these old picture poems. In a world in which ordinary people didn’t have cameras, poetry had to do the job and I think it did well.

Ah, brother! only I and thou 
Are left of all that circle now,— 
The dear home faces whereupon 
That fitful firelight paled and shone. 
Henceforward, listen as we will, 
The voices of that hearth are still; 
Look where we may, the wide earth o’er, 
Those lighted faces smile no more. 
We tread the paths their feet have worn, 
      We sit beneath their orchard trees, 
      We hear, like them, the hum of bees 
And rustle of the bladed corn; 
We turn the pages that they read, 
      Their written words we linger o’er, 
But in the sun they cast no shade, 
No voice is heard, no sign is made, 
      No step is on the conscious floor! 
Yet Love will dream, and Faith will trust, 
(Since He who knows our need is just,) 
That somehow, somewhere, meet we must.