Without Constraint

“At night make me one with the darkness,” the poet Wendell Berry wrote. “In the morning make me one with the light.”

I snowshoed west across the open field this morning. The sky was overcast. Snow fell from above or was blown from the northwest; I couldn’t tell which as I traveled slowly, my head down against the biting wind.

 

Bitter January Morning

 

It is the end of January. The winter, now long and deep with cold, has left me anxious for movement. I wake early on the weekends and chart my potential adventures. Last Saturday I drove south to the Fertile Sand Hills where I snowshoed the ancient, glacial drifts, wending my way between aspens and oak trees, photographing bittersweet and berries, studying the husks of last summer’s wild cucumbers, listening to the sounds of a hairy woodpecker working its tree.

 

 

I was a solitary snowshoer on a warm and sunny January morning. The world was full of light and promise. My mind was clear and accepting. I sat on the riverbank and watched the moving water. Subzero temperatures had concentrated life to its most minimal movement, but the river had refused constraint. I would be like this river, I thought. I would flow with circumstance; I would waken each day and see the world with fresh eyes. I would shake off yesterday’s woes and commence unconstrained into the day. The river spoke of life; I would live.

 

 

It is now the end of January. I woke this morning to overcast skies. The wind, bitterly cold, blew unrelentingly from the northwest. I donned my winter jacket, snow pants and snowshoes and headed west across the field. Behind scarf and hat, I hid my face from the wind. My fingers stung in layered mitts. I hiked across hardened drifts. Not a bird was aloft; not a sound did I hear. No life, I cried! No life moves in this bitter cold…and then I saw it. The cold had concentrated movement to its most minimal, but the snowshoe hare had refused constraint. I shook off my gloves, and standing bare-fingered in the blowing snow, I learned the lesson of life once more.

 

Snowshoe Hare

 

Wendell Berry, “Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer,” Collected Poems of Wendell Berry 1957-1982 (New York: North Point Press, 1987): 129.

 

6 thoughts on “Without Constraint

    1. Thank you, Dawn! The snowshoe hare was a surprise to me! I hoped against hope it would stay put while I struggled out of my gloves and unpacked my camera. It was a good reminder that the unexpected could be around any corner; I simply need to get outside my head…and sometimes outdoors…to experience it.

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  1. “Warm January” would mean “above zero”?? I was once in Minneapolis in January – everyone crowing how warm it was! I arrived from South Florida – the stark difference literally took my voice! I do recall beautiful snow scenes. To be out IN those scenes with camera would be amazing – really enjoyed your post. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jazz! I journaled that it was 24 degrees on 20 January 2018. We had just climbed out of the deep freeze with temps well below zero and windchills in the -30’s. Winters are brutal in northern Minnesota! The cold air certainly feels like it burns the lungs!

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  2. Thanks, Tobias! I think, besides the wind, the hare was the only movement I saw that morning — although tracks in the snow told me there was much going on. The hare might have been pleased that I wasn’t the coyote that was hunting in the vicinity. What I miss when winter has passed are solitary moments such as these.

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