I rise early in the morning, before the light has changed from midnight to the gray that precedes the dawn. A look out the window confirms the wisdom of this. It has snowed—perhaps five inches—and is snowing yet, rather steadily.
I debate the order of things. Coffee? Shower? Shovel? Shower first. If I go out there now I’ll simply have to clean off the car again before I leave.
By the time I am washed and dried and sprayed in place, the light is graying. I layer pants, t-shirt, sweatshirt, two pairs of socks, snow pants, boots, coat, gloves, mittens, scarf. No hat to mess up my hair.
Then I step out into silence.
No cars. No wind. No branches swaying.
I lean against the cold brick arch that frames my door, dumbstruck. I have never, even in the middle of the night, ever heard silence outside of my house. My house which stands but a hundred or so feet away from a four-lane highway, from whose windows through the bare trees I can see the exit ramps for the freeway.
And then I realize that it is not quite silent. There are birds. Small voices piercing through the cold, calling me to take up my task.
Then my boots. Then the taking up of the shovel. Then the Scrape.
But even metal on concrete sounds soft, hushed by the snow that fell silently all night and which now shames all sounds. A semi truck lumbers down the highway, but says not a word for the snow.
The gray light eases to pink.
And still no one on my street is about. All sleep soundlessly in their beds.
I ask the snow to move aside, show it a better place to lie. At my suggestion, bare sidewalk appears at my feet and I walk slowly on, up and down the sidewalk, back and forth along the driveway.
And each slow scrape of my shovel wakes one more person in my town.
They do not realize what it is that wakes them, for the sound of it is but a whisper, but when they wake they know they have slept too long, let the snow go unchecked. With each scrape they rise and hurry into their clothes.
I see a car. Then a truck. The sky is white. This city is stirring now and I know my time runs short.
I come to the end of my task and turn to see my great accomplishment. But the bare sidewalk lies beneath new snow that does not know about the arrangement I made with its kin on my slow walk toward the street.
But I haven’t time to explain. I must go in. I must remove all of my clothing and step into something more suitable.
Inside again. Melting snow drips from my hatless head and sweat slicks my back and my neck. I tear away my wet clothes. The house is hot. Too hot. Who turned the heat up so high? Then I remember. I did. I turned it up this morning after leaving the cave of my bed.
And I want to write the silence down immediately, before it escapes, before the magic melts off.
But I can’t. I take up my hairdryer, my mascara, my necklace.
I slip once more out the door.
And all I can hear is an army of snowblowers.
Along the drive to my son’s school is a block of city land devoted to nature. Surrounded on four sides by homes, a highway, and a golf course, it is nevertheless a patch of peaceful ground. This little enclave of trees and cattails and wildflowers is the haunt of ducks, herons, songbirds, rabbits, muskrats, turtles, and frogs, as well as senior citizens out on walks and health nuts getting in a run. It is lovely much of the year, but like all wooded areas in temperate zones, never so lovely as in fall.
During our frenetic and emotionally taxing week last week, I stopped for twenty minutes one morning after dropping the boy off at school to take some pictures and breathe the cool October air. I took the photos you see in this post of Great White and Blue Herons, colorful sumac leaves, mist dancing above the water, and reflections of trees in the ponds.
When I picked my son up that afternoon, I convinced him that visiting the ducks at the park would be far preferable to playing a video game or watching a TV show. We had a grand time greeting the ducks we knew (like Tucky, who is any female Mallard we encounter anywhere in the city) and naming those we were meeting for the first time (Caramel, Buttercup, Oreo, Splashy, Ducky, Woody, Shaky, etc.). We saw two muskrats and chipmunks with cheeks stuffed full of seeds.
These two stops at the park took up less than an hour of my day. But that hour did so much good to my spirit. I saw so many different species of plants and animals living in such a small space. A compact and yet complex ecosystem.
So much is packed into our lives. So many people, activities, responsibilities, diversions–all vying for attention. But in this little park nothing vied for attention. Everything waited quietly to be noticed.
The silent rabbit I saw retreating ahead of me on the path did not need to be checked off my to-do list. Berries of every hue waited patiently on the bushes for me to note their presence or to pass them by without a glance. And while it’s fun to know the species of the trees or the birds or the flowers, it’s not necessary in order to enjoy looking at them.
Surely there were creatures attempting to escape my notice entirely, like the cautious wading birds or whatever creature ducked underwater at my approach and created ringlets of tiny ripples retreating out into the pond.
I try to make it a practice to notice nature. But when life gets so terribly busy it is easy to forget that there is a world out there that is unconcerned with deadlines or what happens on the next episode of insert-show-you-obsessively-watch. A bird is only concerned with eating. A plant is not concerned about anything at all! And while I wouldn’t want to be a heron or a maple tree, no matter how carefree their existence might be, I don’t want to miss what they have to teach me about patience, silence, and stillness.
I hope you take the time for a little stroll in the woods or along a shore or in a nature center this week. The leaves are falling and this season will not last. Your project will be there tomorrow. Go take a walk.