This post originated as a column in the feature, “Denim Spirit,” published by The Finger Lakes Times (NY): http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/denim-spirit-an-act-of-will-and-art-of-the/article_0120b55d-699e-51fe-bbd6-4ed1d733e4a4.html
Inhale wonder, exhale awe.
Living in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, our home a mere half-mile walk along a path from the border with Quebec, I learned how to weather icy cold like we just experienced here in the Finger Lakes. Walking the dog at night frequently meant bundling up against minus five, ten, even minus twenty degrees. Piercing cold is the norm up there.
When winter is ferocious, long, and routinely gray, it is crucial to embrace it with open arms. Snowshoeing, downhill or cross-country skiing, ice fishing, ice sculpting – something to keep the four walls from defining the limits of your life. Partly it is about having the right clothes, but it is also ingesting the beauty of an inhospitable season.
The naked boreal forest covering the knobby mountains in winter could appear as a menacing, dark, and forsaken graveyard. Or the same scene could appear as a lively coterie of coniferous greens, spritely white birch, and rumpled old hardwoods calling to be explored. The live art that appeared before your eyes, was the product of the mind and an act of will.
In the dead of one of those winters, I remember an NPR story poking through a temporary mood of weariness. It was not a tragic battlefield story or tearful interview, rather, it was a quiet simple story about the astounding endurance of an especially petite bird. Even so, it has stayed with me across the winters, summers, springs, and autumns since.
The Blackpoll Warbler is a half-ounce of feathers that every year goes airborne for three days above an ocean hungry for its failure. She pecks a loved-one goodbye in Nova Scotia or Cape Cod not to perch again until Venezuela. A tight package of muscles and flesh no heavier than two twenty-five cent pieces, she still lands with a song in her throat every year. Then back again.
The news is not good today, any more than it was yesterday. Winter crawls forward dragging us behind. We have problems, some really big problems – some personal, some societal. But remembering the Blackpoll Warbler opens the window so I can breathe a little better. Just knowing of her miraculous migration buoys me.
One antidote to the long winter, or the onslaught of crushing news, is to go looking for the rest of the stories. It is an act of will, and an art of the mind.
We need to browse our actual world, not merely the virtual one, for the people and stories and beauty that allow us to inhale wonder and exhale awe. It will not warm the cold, shorten the season, or eliminate the problems. But awareness of the amazing and miraculous offers us a counter-balance, an infusion of remedy, to the weariness brought by all the rest.