It’s like having the blues. Only better.
This time of year, with the leaves long gone from the hardwoods, the slightest glance penetrates deep into the bark and hollows of the woods. You glimpse neighbors you never knew you had. Pine-green needles hover above the long-legged fog of gray-brown and black-brown trunks. It’s hard to tell what’s thinner, the winter grass or the deer nuzzling the lifeless lawn. Their shades of brown fade into each other, until one moves with a white-tailed startle.
The stark beauty of this season suggests a new way to understand things … “Clear as winter woods.” That will do for starters.
We took the drapes off the bedroom windows a couple of weeks ago, the better to see the winter light, and now I have trouble walking away from the view: trunk upon trunk, gray on gray, brown on brown, the white and the light and the dark and the deep etching each other into the distance. The detail entrances; definition delights.
Autumn-run-riot is still my favorite season, but winter has drawn into a close second, out-distancing spring’s delicate bloom and summer’s in-your-face foliage.
The psalm this week makes a simple but life-threatening request: “One thing I asked … to behold the beauty of God ….” I wonder if the psalmist was praying in winter. I wonder, because the austere beauty of this season — like the crow’s feet clarity and angular planes of my lover’s face — well, it’s enough to stop your heart.
No one told me my idea of beauty would change as I grew older. The first clue may have been the day in the airport a few years ago when I noticed my people-watching tastes had changed … I am not sure who used to catch my sub-conscious glance, but now it is only those with steel or snow in their hair.
Last night this perception took on particular poignancy; my beloved and I stopped by the house of friends. We have not seen them as often as we used to; she is so very ill with ovarian cancer and its hard treatments, and he is so irascibly furious at fate and frightened of the future that it is hard to know when to approach. But we had an opportunity, and were invited in.
I am still puzzling over my feeling at catching sight of my friend.
She has gone through her own autumn, and is deep in winter now. No extra flesh; no hair at all; just light, that almost seems to be emanating from her very bones. I haven’t known her that long, and yet when I saw her all I wanted to do was take her in my arms. There’s no language for the swell of love that arose. I could have sat and watched and listened to her all night.
I thought later of the phrase, “My heart went out to her ….” It’s such a cliché I’ve never even considered where its root might be. Now I know. That’s how it felt; as though my heart had grown out of my chest and expanded until it reached out and surrounded her. Completely without volition … the love just swelled up and stretched out and grew all around us. Not pity … not even compassion. Just love, a palpable thing as clear and substantial as the sunlight streaming in through our morning woods.
Ever since I heard of her diagnosis and she and her family entered into this long valley, I have been offering the energy of my runs to her, in the spirit of metta, a form of Buddhist meditation that gives to others, singly, multiply, anonymously. Perhaps it is these months of meditative offering that created the pathway for this sudden flow of love, out of bounds and surprising. I don’t know. A little epiphany … inexplicably felt.
After we spoke for a few minutes, it was time to go and I asked if we could pray. Gladness broke through the not-knowing and questions. We four held hands and moved into that space where Love held us all. In these times, the prayers pray themselves, through us.
The drapes have gone from all her windows; nothing hides in her deep winter. I am struck by what I saw: such beauty … achingly revealed.
There is a structural intricacy at the heart of each human life, hidden in the green laughter of summer. It is harder to see, perhaps, in our lives, than in those of the trees. We run through only one set of seasons. When our winters come, too often the attendant illness and fear and confusion keep us from seeing what there is to see, the bones of what we have grown into: here curving and strong, there twisted and torn, and yet always reaching up and growing down.
I am trying to sit with this winter, to slow my breath despite the chill, to stay loose under the layers of protective clothing, to see deeply into the cool clarity of the brown woods. The life of this season is within. I will not find it blooming, or calling, or flying. It is in the heartbeat between breaths, the blood born in my bones, the soul swelling unbidden to enfold another’s heart.
I do not fully understand. And yet there is more life here than I can imagine. Thank you, deep winter. Thank you for the browns.