There’s only been one snowshoe outing so far this winter — in December 2021, the first good snowfall. We have enough snow now, but -30 degrees is tough, especially since the field where I tromp is, well, a field, with all the windchill that implies. Plus, there’s been kidney stones — big, hard, Hope Diamond kidney stones. But soon they will be dust (one side is already done) and I will forever eat differently. No more black tea, dark chocolate or spinach. Really? Also no more meat for me. I’d wanted to transition to a vegetarian diet for years, since I abandoned it on doctor’s advice about my protein consumption. I know more now about my body and what nourishes it and of course, the rivers of conditioning we are fed by advertising and all the “latest science” developed by the mega corps that control the American diet–you know the one that has so successfully made us fat and unhealthy. I wonder if the food industry is secretly controlled by the Big Pharma.
Back to snowshoes. Last winter we tried out some of the super lite snowshoes. I found I definitely prefer my old aluminum frames. Although on low snowpack, the lightweights without ice grips are a bit more comfortable. Instead of snowshoeing this winter has been one of watching and birds and rabbits outside my windows cleaning out feeders as fast as I can fill them. I finally had to switch to once a week. The entire rabbit population has found the cornucopia that is my side yard and figured out how to access one of the low feeders. Meanwhile the sparrows have been MIA for the last week. Too cold for them? Gotta love a Minnesota Winter or go mad.
We have a lot of snow this winter. A Lot. Consequently, I have been snowshoeing a course around my neighborhood on as many afternoons as I can. The pace (slow, methodical, each foot carefully placed) is necessary because I’m not especially fit and at 66 have learned to fear falling. (I think I learned that in childhood, actually.) If I take care, pay attention, I feel safe. The pace is also a meditation. My path runs off my little porch, down the alley across the back yard, around the (snow-buried) fire pit and down the hill into the cottonwood gully that runs alongside the my property (that is the land for which I am currently the tender). Rabbits (we have many) use my trails. Or I use theirs. I never see them, only their sign. Four p.m., approaching sundown, is my favorite time to trek. I know it’s not a trek in the truest sense, but from the gully across the high banks alongside the road, into the field and around the curved edge that follows the railroad spur is roughly a quarter mile one way and cutting trail on snowshoes makes a half-mile a decent workout.
At the furthest point, I circle my dear little grove of star sisters (a clump of 11 cottonwoods), usually several times to wear a path and observe the day’s scene. Inside the circle, sitting on a tiny reflective mat, I journal with a drafters pencil and tattered book, drink tea (today Sencha Green with lemon — some bitter to cut the winter kapha); sometimes I eat a food bar and pretend I’m far from the city camping in the woods. I listen to the star sisters and they tell me stories and ask me leading questions. I make notes. I’ve done this at 20 below and 20 above, in a mild blizzard and on a day so sunny I trod blind most of the time. Every time it is both meditation and inspiration. My thoughts are either fanciful or philosophical, but they are NOT full of worry, woe or anger.
This is Yoga: bhakti full of praise and gratitude; mudra as I walk four-legged; asana, attending to position and flowing easily from one step to the next (and sometimes falling down to rise again butt first). The fast rich flow of words that brought me so much joy a few weeks past has slowed. I yearn for it and accept the cycling of the energy, the planets, the moon, now waxing and calling me to complete that which is begun and needs to be done and released. The stories I am writing down bring with them a sense of urgency. I cannot tell if I am channeling something meant to be left mostly untouched, or if this is part of the writing process, and time and editing will bring a better result. My decision is to relax about it all. Finally, I am relearning how I write and how my imagination is best accessed. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this sense of fertility and necessity. How, then, do we learn to nurture and feed the flame, rather than dilute it with too many projects or put it out altogether by flying on the next thing? This is a life question for me, as for many others, urged as we are to pay attention to every new shiny thing that flashes a wave. I am a triple water sign—snowfield or lake feel much the same to me.
In this cycle, my focus is on service in the form of family caregiving and attending to outside obligations (worship coordinator for church, a couple social justice activities, teaching Kundalini Yoga) as well as I can, while carving out half of my time for my own practices: writing and moving my body. This is what I’m telling myself, anyway. To what are you giving your attention as late northern winter settles? Very soon it will be (already is) time to start thinking of and preparing for spring—why I drank bitter tea today. The longing for seed catalogs is already rising.
Meanwhile, there are snowshoes, crisp air, shimmering light, and soup on the stove. The best words, the subtlest thought, might be left behind on the trail, but the sunset is beautiful. Twilight walking is sublime. Tomorrow offers another chance to do or not do. I get to choose. So do we all.
As an adolescent (age 16) working in a small town hospital (40 beds), it was quickly clear I was a good fit for a caregiving role: I was happy in the work, frequently had quarters slipped into my pocket by old gents who liked my backrubs, and I found the sights and smells intriguing rather than off-putting. The skills were taught by the awesome Sisters of Saint Francis, especially Sr. Anne and Sr. Carmelita. The tall and stunning Sister Anne was my first girl crush and role model, also possibly the source of my youthful passion for Catholicism, despite being raised in a family where John Wesley (Methodism) ruled. Sr. Carmelita was older, smaller, and meaner — a true task master, thorough in both teaching and testing. She taught me to appreciate and thrive under demanding teachers. (I was in high school at the time and her twin was Mrs. Rose the librarian for whom I also worked after school). Apparently, I sought out tough taskmasters. After college I worked as a journalist where the discipline Sr. Carmelita instilled was especially valuable, as my editors were notorious for making the softies cry.
Circle back to caregiving: At age 65 I finally discovered that exercise was a great antidote for stress, depression and anxiety. I know, right. Someone should have written about this sooner (note both sarcasm and chagrin). It seems there are only a few types of movement that put me into the zone—the place where you just want to keep going because some hungry part of you is being so fully nourished. As a kid I hung out in trees a lot. I had a secret tree at the next-door neighbors where I could lie along a branch for hours, listening to the conversation of the wind and the trees, listening to the trees teaching me how to be human. I’m not sure when it went away. I remember rare episodes into my twenties, but they got closed down by 1. pot smoke 2.right timing 3. occult experimentation that I was not ready for (mild and highly impactful) or 4. all of the above.
Now, I live next to a wide park-like space between a railroad spur and a school. It has a border of old cottonwoods, the last remnant of a much greater one-time woodland and swamp. Most of the year we walk the dogs there and it is one of the two places I go to think. There is another narrow strip of this woodland on the north side of my house where we’ve groomed path and made a hammock camp. It’s usually off limits in a high snow winter, but this season I resurrected my red aluminum snowshoes and headed out. It’s been a process: breaking trails (over and over—we get a lot of wind); re-finding snowshoe competency; rediscovering pencils when I realized how quickly ink froze in even above zero conditions. Now I carry a small pack with hand-warmers, journal, pencil, granola bar, knife and sometimes warm (not hot) tea; also a REI pad to sit on that folds up and stows so cleverly in either pack or pocket of my windproof/waterproof top layer. I tromp to the grove (11 cottonwoods in an oval) and settle down on the ground. Crossing my legs left-inside-right and making sure my snow-pants aren’t touching the metal makes a 20 minute sit quite doable. (Yesterday, it was more than -10 and I stayed comfy.) I lean against a tree and write as fast as I can with one mitten off and I wish every time that I was ambidextrous.
Because the trees are telling me stories again. I asked and they answered. The stories are delightful and the unfolding is miraculous, synchronous and dharmic. Plus an upwelling inner joy shouting “good goddess what is happening, thank you, wah hey guru.“
Being me, being human, I’m already imagining it ending, which is just silly. Also, contrary to the teachings. (That is, contrary to the five Sutras of the Aquarian Age: Keep up and you will be kept up. There is a way through every block. When time is on you start and the pressure will be off. Vibrate the cosmos and the cosmos will clear the path.) So as long as I can continually reopen, stick with my practices, stay awake, the inspiration will continue. And when I fall down, I know how to get back up.