Running in the Snow
Winter runs are therapeutic, like a hot bath. The quietness envelops you. All you hear is your own rhythmic breath, the brush of clothing, and shoes on snow.
Sneakers feel oddly like wings when traveling through snow. Most other winter footwear is intentionally bulky, well padded, restrictive. But when the blood coursing
through your veins is flowing fast enough and the time of foot in snow is short enough, it matters little that only a thin layer of breathable fabric exists between
your woolen foot and frozen water. You can bound from one foot to the other, from one cushioned white landing to the next.
a winter afternoon on the plateau
Snow quiets the forest. Its fun to imagine the infinite number of air pockets nestled between each crystal of snow filling with sounds‒needles rustling in the
wind, squirrels scurrying from one acorn barren tree to another. Occasionally a raven will fly overhead and the sound of its call and the air displaced by its wings,
which usually resonate through the forest, are drawn into the cozy and restful den of the snow and do not again emerge.
Once I reach the point on Wahkiakus, past which
few cars go regularly, my footsteps become the only break in freshly fallen snow. Distance and space become irrelevant as there is little discontinuity in the surface
of the ground to aid the eye in distinguishing between ten feet and one hundred. Its all the same, and the eye cannot focus, its like being able to see everything and
nothing at the same time, like existing as both the wave and the particle.
When I reach the Douglas fir stump that usually marks the end my journey north, sometimes I like to stop and watch the snow falling from the trees. One stand of firs about two hundred feet from the road regularly attracts my attention during winter‒they are tall and straight and growing so closely together that the contrast of white against green is stark. If I am lucky and am there at the right moment on a snowy morning, I can bear witness to the perfect combination of snow accumulation and melting, wind and gravity that causes the bough that has been bending and holding, bending and holding, patiently, to finally bend past the holding point.
a stand of Douglas fir trees
The snow then slides off its needled rest and falls down through the lower branches causing a cascade of bending boughs and falling snow. The branch that initiated the cascade then bounces back up, relieved of its burden, launching any snow that remains on its branch into the air, where it too then finishes its journey to the ground. In a matter of seconds all the boughs that were just bending and launching are once again still, as if the dance between snow and branch had never happened. And for me, standing a mere two hundred feet away, it all happens in silence, making it all the more easy to wonder if I really saw anything at all. But surrounded by layers of white on green, white on green, there is a patch that is unmistakably green on top of green on top of green, with no layers of white in between, and I know that though fleeting, what I witnessed was real.
snow bending an oak branch
Our bodies are like the branches of fir trees, bending and holding under the snow, patiently waiting for that moment when all the conditions are right and we can let the snow go, sliding downward towards the earth and we return to a place of equilibrium. And then the snow will fall again, and our bodies will intercept the falling snow, and our bodies bend and hold, and are patient. Then the time comes when we can no longer hold onto the snow and it finishes its journey downwards, and if we are lucky we are graceful and we dance. And if we are unlucky we are like the bough of a fir tree when the temperatures are just right and freezing rain falls rather than snow, and instead of sliding off when gravity overcomes friction, the ice holds tight to the needles and the wood and eventually the limb breaks under the unforgiving weight.
Mr Mitchell gave me a book this spring about bodies, about wisdom. I would read it in moments of quietness, when I wanted to center myself, be closer to my body. I read most of it when the days were long and nights were warm while laying out under the pines on the southern boundary where you can see out to the mountain. Where a tree branch in the shape of Pi leans against an oak, as if to remind us that there are relationships between the outer edges of bodies and the space they enclose that are unfailing.
a view of Mt Hood in the winter
I found it odd at first that an 82 year old man would give me a book about women's bodies‒a book filled with descriptions of ovarian cancer, menstrual irregularities and pregnancy‒ with such enthusiasm, with such confidence that this was a book we should all read. But my respect for Mr Mitchell runs deep and so I took on faith that there was something in this rather large text that went beyond specifically women's health.
By most accounts, Mr Mitchell's body is frail; when he has his shirt tied into a knot by his rib cage the way young school girls do, and his stomach is exposed, you can see that his skin is loose and he is so thin that his pants hardly stay up even with the aid of a belt. Yet in the summer's heat, every day he tends to his abundant garden, checks on the hundreds of trees he has planted around town, and rumor has it that he even windsurfs on the Columbia. His body is slowing down, it can carry less, and needs more sleep, but it is still bending, and still holding, because it knows a truth that runs as deep into our past as is possible, and he listens, as best as any of us can.
In the same conversation he talks of how he modifies his diet depending on how he feels and how at his age, you can't really expect much from the future. Talking with Mr. Mitchell is like running through freshly fallen snow, what is right in front of you and what is far away are hardly distinguishable, you talk of now and forever at the same time.
At the end of a detailed account of the medical history of hundreds of women and how they exist with their bodies in each of their unique lives, about steps for creating health in our lives that stem from listening to and being respectful of the very complex system that carries us through the world, the author starts talking about the News. About the news that we read everyday in the newspapers or hear on the radio or watch on T.V., that carries to us all the horrible things that happen in the world every day. She says, our emotions translate chemically into signals that travel through our very cells and that humans are not designed physiologically or biochemically to handle all the News from around the planet.
Coming back to the understanding that if we all just take care of our own, we will all be OK, I am reminded once again of π‒the unchanging relationship between the length of a circle's outer shell and the distance between its edges; no matter how big or small you make the circle, that relationship remains constant. Our bodies too are governed by such principles‒certain rules, sequences and patterns that form the basis for our existence and so too are the ways that we interact with each other and with this land.
an oak snag in the shape of a snow swan
In a similar way to our bodies knowing what do despite our own conscious ignorance of the inner working of its systems (think breathing, clotting blood, digesting food, drinking water, or going to sleep), so does the land that we are choosing to make into our home. Our bodies are perhaps the most simple complex system that we are intimately associated with. This ecosystem perhaps is the most complex.
As our bodies are made up of many different organisms and many smaller interconnecting systems, so is this forest. This land too is a body, a body that bends and holds and is patient. Patiently knowing how to do all the things that we only cognitively grasp at the most superficial of levels. So we are tasked by both our bodies and this land to listen deeply‒listen to the sounds that are easily ignored because they get muffled and lost in the spaces of the day to day, like the noises of the forest absorbed by the snow. And then we are tasked to respond, as the snow on the fir branch responds to friction and to gravity.
Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70