Snow capped wildflowers
Before the beauties of winter give way to spring’s slow unfolding, I want to sing their praises. Twice this February we have witnessed snowfalls in which the snow fell lightly on every surface available. Light but sticky, clinging to the upside of branches, dried grass and flowers, fences, wires, signs and roof contours. Nothing was left untouched—unaccented. The drooping rung of a fence line, the cracked tree lying on the ground, the pens of livestock and the outlines of last year’s gardens demanded my attention on the ride to town. How much I miss when houses and stands of trees have no such highlighting and they meld into sameness. With their snowy capes I see the usual as extraordinary.
On my early morning walk with the dog, I notice how close the woods have become. A visual artist would know that white accents bring objects into sharper focus giving the illusion that they are closer than they are. But my art is with words. How do I explain this phenomenon in my memoir class for mature writers? Detail, detail, detail. Every shred of detail paints a picture for the reader; without it the scene is unremarkable, something easily overlooked. Sometimes I say, “Color your story so that it comes alive.” I go so far as to urge--put cloths on your characters, even if you don’t remember what they wore that day. Just like the woods I pass each morning, full of indistinct tree trunks and branches, until the snow reminds me of all their curves and contours--nouns and verbs and their modifiers can reveal so much more than a general category of things or motions.
Right now the landscape is pretty still. The delicate white pines that I see from my window sway in a light breeze. A few stalks of last year’s grasses poke through the covering of snow. Most of those snowy accents have disappeared but the memory of the things they helped me see, remains. That will hold me until those first spring beauties and jack-in-the-pulpit push up in the woods, the fattening buds change the size of branches and the soil brings forth colorful, moving grasses and flowers, all vying for my attention.
Simplify, the gurus tell us—return to nature. Well, here we are in the middle of more nature than one could ever take in, but that doesn’t make life simple. I can, for example, simplify my lifestyle but not what I take into my mind. The two simplicity robbers that won’t leave me alone are true marks of modernism—the TV and the Internet. Both bring wonders never before imagined but also carry the problems of the world right into my quiet study: the deadly war in Iraq; the upcoming election and its hoopla, and troubling situations on the streets and in the villages of Kenya. For the first time in my life, my sleep is disturbed some nights because the problems of the world or the distress among my own circle of caring press upon me. In the middle of the night I find myself wide awake—not with wonder but with a vague, undefined fear.
As an antidote Fritz and I latch onto things of beauty wherever we find them. Yesterday we watched a pair of beavers or muskrats playing by the edge of the ice, which is again forming from the tail side of the lake. Usually the beaver’s activity is barely visible; a large, v-shaped troubling of the water is a clear sign of his presence, but we rarely see more than the tip of his nose creating the wake. Our binoculars are always handy, but getting a good view has proven elusive. The beavers today were definitely up to something. Fritz dragged out his tripod and most powerful lens but still couldn’t capture their activities. The next day these guys were back on the ice edge that by now had filled more of the open water.
Today my husband’s camera captured the red ball of the sun coming up over the horizon. That light show unfolds quickly, but because of the beaver’s antics, the camera was poised and ready to capture it. And so we have a few moments of peace and grand simplicity before hearing the insistent call of our devices to look beyond nature into the wider world. We have returned to nature but are still not free from life’s complexity. (written in 2008, from February, All Nature Sings: A Spiritual Journey of Place)