I know a woman, an Army lifer, who reinvented herself after her return from her last deployment in Iraq; she retired, earned two Master’s degrees and found her second dream job as a federal Park Ranger. Stationed this winter for the first time in the back country of Yellowstone, she could not wait to be snowed in for the season. She envisioned herself and her Great Pyrenees, Molly, out and about every day, alone and together.
Winter is the season of cleanliness. It is the season of frozen earth, clean air, clean light, the crackling of beech leaves in the wind on a north facing slope. I try to get out into that early sharp light once or twice a week.
A few days ago, on one very early morning walk in a park with Wolfie, my Houdini dog, nothing of note intruded — no fox or eagles, no wild animal circus acts; only Wolfie, who spent his time eating knobs of horse poop and gobbling deer turds. He raced to catch up to me when I whistled. He can also fade away into the forest in one blink, one turn of the back. Sometimes when I call him and hear only silence in response, I will suddenly look down and find him sitting three feet away looking at me curiously as if to say ‘I’ve been here all this time. What’s the deal?’
As long as I can walk with him, my solitude is familiar, engaged, not alienating and introverted but open to more of everything in the air and woods.
These mornings are not all so tidy and fresh; some have another kind of sharp edge to their cleanliness, a winnowing out. Two days ago I found a dead finch on our partially enclosed porch. The poor thing had struck a window. I held him in my hand. Wolfie thought it was a treat, but when he sniffed the body he abruptly turned and crept away from me.
Just this morning Wolfie swept after a squirrel who chattered across the road. Charging after him, I envisioned a car pouring over the crest of the hill, its driver bleary eyed and staring into the sun. Wolfie’s world was filled only with squirrel. He had shied away from the dead finch but he was utterly innocent of the knowledge of the life that beat within him. It took me minutes to coax him to my hand.
Fickle creatures that we are, winter is the season of huddling in lamp-lit rooms and waiting for snow, happy to be warm and dry and bedded down inside strong walls. It feels safe.
In a few weeks Patti and I will be feeding and seeing to the care of horses four times a day. Both Buddy and Moe are massive, but when you hold your face close to theirs and breathe into their nostrils, they quiet for a moment, stand still, and patiently wait for the food and water you will bring to them. Under their robes, they give off volumes of heat. Especially in this season, life loves life.