Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Snowy Silence

A walk during our recent snowstorm led to some musings:

One of the best times to escape the turmoil of hurried lives in an urban society is immediately after a snowfall – or even while the storm swirls all around. When the world is covered in white, everything slows down. Sharp edges are layered in softness; colors are muted.

I love to go out before the plows have begun their noisy scraping and clearing of streets; before the snow blowers start to rev up. I am drawn, as always, to the parks, to nature. But in a snowstorm it isn’t even necessary to get away from my neighborhood to find silence, peace. I walk down the middle of the street, cutting the first tracks, like an adventurer in the wilderness, a wilderness that for the moment lurks right outside my door.

If I huddle inside I lose a precious opportunity. I’ve learned not to turn on the television at times like this. Forecasters trumpet catastrophe on slight evidence, like Old Testament prophets of doom. If I don’t have to drive anywhere, the storm is far more of a blessing than a danger.

In “The House at Pooh Corner” A. A. Milne has Eeyore say this bit of wisdom:

"I shouldn't be surprised if it hailed a good deal to-morrow…. Blizzards and what-not. Being fine today doesn't Mean Anything. It has no sig—what's that word? Well, it has none of that. It's just a small piece of weather."

Don’t tell the TV weather forecasters – with their Doppler radar and remote on-the-scene camera crews, who hold microphones and wear no hats – that it’s “just a small piece of weather.”

I digress. Today the wilderness outside my door beckoned and I answered the call. The snow was light but a steady wind whipped it around me as I trudged through Hoyt Park. By the time I reached the County Grounds I was warm with exertion and ready for the open range.

I find it curious that even in the midst of a snowstorm nature can present distinct moods.

Where a woodland or ravine provides shelter from the wind, silence prevails. It is this peaceful silence that I generally find most conducive to introspection and spiritual resuscitation. Because the city is so seldom silent the occasion seems wondrous. To paraphrase Thoreau, silence is an opportunity for the soul to commune with its own infinity.

Infinity and eternity are easy to contemplate in a world turned white and silent.
The blizzard also is a reminder of the limits of human activity. We throw tremendous resources into our attempts to pacify nature, to make winter not merely survivable, but comfortable, for example. However, we can never completely cast out the wilderness. 

As I walk out into the open prairie on the County Grounds, my mood swings drastically as I am buffeted by the storm. I face an elemental force of nature, but not in opposition, like Ahab confronting the White Whale. I open myself to the gentle fury of the blowing snow. I am one with the wind, the snow, and the land. Again I count my blessings. Still so close to home that I am at liberty to expose myself this way. Wrapped in Gore-Tex and Wellingtons, I have no fear for my welfare. In my urban wilderness experience, the storm is not only survivable, not only comfortable, it is exhilarating!

After about half an hour the wind dies down, the snow tapers off, and the sun comes out. The wilderness settles into the familiarity of home. I head back, thankful for a small piece of weather that can transport me so profoundly.

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