Late February Thoughts

At 12:45 this afternoon the temperature is -2. The wind is blowing 30 miles per hour. The windchill is -27. The fact that the sun is shining does not soften the inhospitableness of the afternoon. The wind moans; snow cuts through the air; drifts climb steadily higher against the shed and house. There will be no snowshoeing this afternoon.


Blizzard Winds in February


February nears its end even as winter rages. Each day is incrementally longer. Each day the sun climbs higher in the sky. Between heavy snows and blizzards, there are periods of calm days and warmer temperatures. I wake early on weekends, pack the car with camera and snowshoes, and head out to explore.

Last weekend took me south to Rydell National Wildlife Refuge. I snowshoed the trails around Golden Pond where a year ago in March I saw the first Trumpeter swans of spring resting on snow-covered ice.


Swan Resting on Frozen Pond: March 2018


I hiked last Sunday through new snow at least a foot deep. Chickadees called from conifers. Pine grosbeaks flocked to crabapple trees. Deer stopped to watch as I struggled through the heavy snow.




Alone with my thoughts, I reflected on the concept of awakening.

In his piece “Fox Sleep,” the poet W. S. Merwin tells the story of an old man who for days lingered at the edge of a group of students listening to their teacher —

Every time they assembled and he spoke to them
          about waking there was an old man who stood listening
and left before the others until one day the old man stayed
          and Who are you he asked the old man
and the old man answered I am not a man
          many lives ago I stood where you are standing
and they assembled in front of me and I spoke to them
          about waking until one day one of them asked me
When someone has wakened to what really is there
          is that person free of the chain of consequences
And I answered yes and with that I turned into a fox
          and I have been a fox for five hundred lives
and now I have come to ask you to say what will
          free me from the body of a fox please tell me
when someone has wakened to what is really there
         is that person free of the chain of consequences
and this time the answer was That person sees it as it is
          then the old man said Thank you for waking me
you have set me free of the body of the fox
          which you will find on the other side of the mountain
I ask you to bury it please as one of your own…

To be wakened is to see life as it really is — this day, this walk, this chickadee, this grosbeak, this moment. In the end, I thought, we have only the life we were born into and our expiration. This is the awakened state. Knowing that we are of this moment only is to be awake. To accept that we will expire while awakened is to be fully awake. To live fully is our truth. This, I believe, is how it really is.


Pileated Woodpecker in Winter Fruit Tree


Merwin, W.S. “Fox Sleep.” Migration: New and Selected Poems, 362. Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 2005.


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