Bare Winter

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I took a walk in the town forest yesterday. The temperature was hovering at the freezing mark. Snow was falling. It was a light snow, the flakes floating slowly to the frozen ground in the light wind. It felt like winter wanted to be there–cold, barren.

I walked quickly. I went to the forest because I hoped to find a Red-Breasted Nuthatch, a bird I have found there before, hopping along the trunks of the tall white pines. There was not a lot of bird activity so I was not lingering. It felt good just to move through the woods. I also went there to walk. I took time to stop, to look, to listen; but I also just wanted to feel my breath and warm myself with motion.

The ground was bare. Those gentle snowflakes were beautiful but they did not gather themselves. They broke apart, tucked under leaves, melted when they hit the slightly warmer ground. James Wright’s “Late November in a Field” begins: “Today I am walking alone in a bare place/And winter is here.” It felt like that, only it is February. It felt like winter was about to arrive, but it should be here by now.

We have gotten little snow. In a typical year I would not have gone to the town forest as I did yesterday. I would not have gotten to the parking area and I would not have tried to park, afraid of getting my car stuck. But the dirt road was like pavement. I did not need snowshoes or skis on the trails. I did not have to worry about ice. The temperature popped above freezing by the time I returned to my car. Late November weather.

I heard almost no birds. A few chickadees called their quiet peeps. I heard my nuthatch honking away, plus one or two others. At one point I stood below the pines and thought “it is so quiet today.” But it was not quiet. The wind blew the bare trees. They swayed just enough, and they were cold enough, to creak and pop. Squirrels chattered. Pines whispered. The forest was having a winter conversation with itself. Once I stopped listening with such focus and allowed myself to hear everything around me I found a world of sound. It was not quiet at all.

Winter has a couple months yet to go. Perhaps we will have a solid snowstorm during those couple months. Or perhaps November will blend into spring come April. Outside my window, the tips of crocuses show themselves below the bird feeder. I do not wish them harm but I would like them to be hidden under a deep layer of snow. I would like this bare winter to wear its snowy cloak, at least for a little while. I would like a little more winter before spring arrives.

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