I have been hiking with my son all winter this year, trying to make peace with a season that normally makes me want to hibernate. As the horizon of spring becomes more than just a dream of warmth (come on, groundhog!), I am still finding that winter has more to offer me, to all of us, than I previously would have imagined.
Several frigid days this season sent us running for the car instead of taking our weekly hike, but last week the weather warmed up enough that I knew our familiar path wouldn’t be frozen or slippery. As we walked along it, the landscape at first glance seemed monotonous – brown and gray tree trunks and leafless brambles crisscrossing the white snow. Everything was still and, aside from the occasional echoing bird call, silent.
Footprints In The Snow
I stood still as well, squirmy toddler hoisted on my hip, and tried to really see my surroundings, to find the details, the variety of shades I knew must be there. And they were. Footprints marked the snow in front of me, five long, pointed toe marks above nickel-sized pads. Squirrels?
For some reason, the snow seemed to reveal instead of cover the rocks on the ground, and the sunlight played off its expanse of white, glinting on the chunks of quartz, some bigger then my fist, that were tumbled across path. As I leaned to pick one up and hold it closer for my son to see, something moved ahead of me, behind the trees. It slipped back behind a slender trunk like a shadow and I almost turned away, thinking it to be a trick of the light, which was making patterns through the treetops.
I looked again, though, and saw it was a deer, its dappled body blending almost perfectly with its surroundings. I caught my breath, and for a moment the deer and I stared at one another before it turned and leapt backwards through the bare branches of the shrubbery. It stopped, turned and looked at me again – by now, my son was interested as well – our mutual curiosity rooting all of us to the spot. It was small, with no sign of antlers (deer in my area usually shed in very late winter), and a thick fluff of a tail that bounced when it bounded. It was most likely a doe, out grazing on the tips and twigs of the bushes. We watched one another (even the baby was still and wondering) until another noise from somewhere behind her caused her to finally turn and run.
If it had been summertime, would I have seen her? The trees and raspberry bushes would have been lush with leaves, and fruit and even wildflowers would have edged the path I walked, calling out for me to smell and eat them, distracting me from noticing what was hiding just up ahead.
And if I had seen her, would I have been as appreciative? I love to spot deer in any season, but in summer, when frogs belch from the edges of the ponds and birds are thick in the trees, would the sight of one deer stopped me in tracks and stayed with me for as long as it did that day? Summer teems with life; we can luxuriate in it and eventually even take it for granted. In winter, when even the birds bobbing at the feeders catch my attention, a deer was a sight indeed.
Simple Marvels Of Life
I was reminded that even in the stretch of white and cold that is January and February, there are simple marvels to be found. It’s not just the bareness of winter that lays out such a plain background for these wonders. Any gray day, any time things seem monotonous, dreary, never-ending, we can pay attention – stop, wait, look and listen for the treasure that is surely there, hidden in plain sight. Because we will always have the cold days, the hard days, where nothing seems to come alive. But there is always life, there is always something – however small, however simple – waiting to catch our eye and even take our breath away, if we let it.