Seven Degrees of Separation

Today it was the coldest day here in over 10 years. I set a new personal best for hiking despite the weather. The lake in the natural area held a coating of ice, something I had never seen before on a lake this large in Tennessee. The ice appeared to be very thin, like frost on a window; the splintered streaks glittering from the early sunrays. And still the green-brown water was visible underneath. I thought of the fish and turtles underneath discussing their dilemma.

It was so peaceful. Of course what other nut would be out walking this day? The schools had even closed not for a snow day, but a “freeze” day? It was hard to imagine scores of liberated children cheering in excitement, anticipating snowball fights and sledding, then realizing all they had was free time to stay warm inside. I cringed at all the pent up energy bouncing around those homes. But here the silence (and the temperature) was breathtaking.

Then it hit me. It was not the lack of outdoor enthusiasts that made it quiet. It was the lake itself. Frozen. No lapping sounds from waves even though the wind was up and cutting. No geese or fowl of any kind honking, flapping or dunking. I noticed circular patterns in patches on the frozen surface. Places where the geese I imagined had been paddling round and round in the last spots of open water, hoping the ice would start to recede before their last smear of water hardened. Lots of the round spots were scattered on the east end of the lake near the feeder creek. There must have been more than a handful of geese whirling around thinking positive thoughts before they finally had to leave, and just in time. There was even a long skid mark; evidence of a crash landing by one very surprised goose as the greenish surface gave little warning of its now solid form.

While the lake was surprisingly silent, the forest in contrast seemed alive with crisp chirps and peeps from the small song birds. It was sunny so perhaps the break from gray days had them up and hopping. That or they were just trying to keep warm. The deer looked like teddy bears, with their fur all puffed out in an attempt to create a thicker layer of insulation.

On a different day just weeks ago, an equally blustery one in early November, the leaves on the sugar maples were just past their prime. Still, they filled the hillside of the wildlife sanctuary with a golden glow. The ground was a muted shade of the same color, deep with deposited leaves that had released themselves earlier. As I hiked, the wind charged through the woods every so often which caused a covey of just-letting-go leaves to take flight. The swirling reminded me of my boys running wildly during similar fall storms, years earlier, shouting “it’s leafing, it’s leafing!’ It was with the same enthusiasm they would possess if they were dancing in thick snow fall.

I found myself thinking about the sloughing off of leaves and the world of money and finance unraveling in the world. The chaotic un-tethered feeling of freefalling and blasts of thermals and chill winds that is still sending both leaves and people off their course. And the wind spinning, gaining momentum while skipping their passengers to unknown places. The fabric of the times wearing thin and tearing around us. It was that fat full season coming to a dramatic, alarming end.

But as one man said, “a dead cat dropped, bounces”, and so do the times, and the weather. But the next drop has come. Now winter is here and so is a turn to a more austere time. It is cold. The landscape is grey and beige. The festive décor is gone from trees inside and out. We are heading toward the Lenten season. It is the time to give up, fast, contemplate and do without. It is when there is rest and resolutions. I really like this time. Take stock, count blessings. Lose weight, recycle, be healthy, care for one’s self and those around us. See the ending of things. Mourn. Wait patiently.

During Lent or the depths of winter, there seems to be time to get a glimpse of where we each might be in the Great Plan. As smallish as my world clearly is, it does exist. It may be meaningful or not; no clue there. It is however, changing, sometimes in ways that are happy but often not. There are many endings that seem to happen during winter. Separation from what was to what is. Most are hard or scary.

It was seven degrees this morning when I headed off for the trails and seven degrees after I finished. It was the coldest walk I had ever taken in all my years here. I also made it the longest for some reason. I wanted to be really cold this year and feel the changes no matter how harsh. But there have been moments shot through with magic in the last months and today. The ice cracked like a bolt of electricity followed by a theatrical echo, more than once. The fragments of frost sparked off the ice in the pale yellow sunlight. The deer not startled, nodded as if to acknowledge my welcome to their cold existence. The discomfort of it all made me feel stronger having been out on that day.


“Fresh Air Painting on the Mountain”

July 08 - July 12, 2024
Monteagle, Tennessee

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