The wind blew Thursday, and the snow fell. The world was a swirl of white. Snow devils danced across plowed fields, roadside ditches filled with drifts, cars crept down county highways. Winter, if only for forty-eight hours, had re-asserted itself at October’s end.
But today is Saturday, partly sunny, and calm of wind and weather. I took off on my bike this morning decked in two sweatshirts, two pair of socks, hiking boots, snow pants, mittens and blaze orange hat. I would leave by foot or bike, I’d decided, and chose bike since the fields were wet enough to swallow my boots whole had I tried to hike across. My destination was the shrubline, the field-division between my family’s property and the neighbor’s, a destination familiar to me but ever-changing.
In Traveling at Home, the poet Wendell Berry wrote:
Even in a country you know by heart
it’s hard to go the same way twice.
The life of the going changes.
The chances change and make a new way.
Any tree or stone or bird
can be the bud of a new direction. The
natural correction is to make intent
of accident. To get back before dark
is the art of going.
I peddled in the morning sun wondering if this ride would be the last of the season. The cold air seeped through my wool mittens, my toes were chilled in my leather boots – but I persevered. On my bike I had ushered in the spring dressed warmly in winter jacket and boots, empty fields to the east and west, ditches frozen, bike chain complaining. On my bicycle I would bid the autumn adieu.
I hugged tightly to the edges of the shrubline. Dark-eyed juncos twittered invisibly from the fields, crows cawed loudly overhead assuming already their winter hierarchy. Beneath hawthorn shrubs, sharptail wings lay etched upon the snow’s surface. Fox and coyote tracks followed those of mice and hare. The going was tough in the heavy snow. My thoughts turned to snowshoes. “Too soon,” I counseled my thoughts. “Not too soon,” my thoughts argued back as I plodded through a drift. Winter abides by no autumnal calendar. Too often the winter solstice arrives long after the snow shovel is resident against the house.
The sun had slipped behind the clouds when I knocked the snow from my boots and peddled home. I thought again of Wendell Berry: “Even in a country you know by heart, it’s hard to go the same way twice. The life of the going changes. The chances change and make a new way…to get back before dark is the art of going.”
One-hundred and thirty years earlier, Henry David Thoreau wrote similarly. “We should come home from far, from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day, with new experience and character.”
In the familiar change of seasons, last Thursday the wind blew, and the snow fell. Today was cold, but calm; snow filled the roadside ditches and caressed open fields. Shrubs stood bare against the new season. Tracks atop drifts told stories of forage and pursuit. Crows flew in pairs. High in the branches of a cottonwood, a bald eagle surveyed the scene below.
Wendell Berry, “Clearing,” Collected Poems of Wendell Berry 1957-1982 (New York: North Point Press, 1987): 216, 217.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden (New York: Literary Classic of the United States: 1985): 489.