February 13, 2007
Cold winter air
On retreat, I always make time for walks by myself. Because the monastery is located outside the snowbelt, the roads and paths were clear last weekend, without the big snowbanks that the roads in Snowstorm Region have, dry pavement just right for someone with a knee injury. Saturday was icy cold, so I dressed warm. The guesthouse is on the highest hill, and snow-covered fields stretched in all directions.
The grounds of the monastery were quiet on a February morning. Guests were tucked safely into guesthouses, and the little parking lot for townspeople was empty. Even the sheep were huddled inside the big barn. During my walk, I passed only one other person, a monk. He was striding along purposefully, swinging his arms, his head bent into the wind. No matter what time of year I come to the monastery, I always see Brother SwingsArms. He walks religiously, no matter what the weather. He looked over at me and smiled, but said nothing, and continued on his way.
I love the clarity that cold weather brings. Suddenly, I could see far. Tree branches, stark without their leaves, held up the icy blue sky. My own breath shuddered warm against my fleece neck wrap as I trudged along, and when I went off the road to walk through the little cemetery, my feet crunched through the crust of snow. I wandered around, gulping in the cold air and glorying in the views I could see with all the foliage gone. In the sheep meadows, dried grasses curved in big golden arcs against the white snow.
When my fingers and toes began to hurt, I made my way down to the chapel. As soon as I stepped inside the heavy wooden doors, the musky air rushed at me, smelling of wax and incense, surrounding me with warmth. The chapel was empty, completely deserted, and I was alone as I made my way down the stone stairs into the crypt below, a dark area lit only by dozens of votive candles shimmering at the base of a fourteenth century stone statue of a woman.
Earlier, when I was getting dressed, I realized that I'd forgotten to bring a hat. Leaving home, I had grabbed my bag of snowboarding clothes, but I don't wear a hat when I snowboard because I wear a helmet. So instead of a hat, I had wrapped a fleece scarf around my long hair and put up my hood. When I pulled down my hood in the dark crypt, and yanked away the scarf, sparks came snapping from my hair, brilliant flashes of light. I sat down in my usual spot on the stone floor, warming my hands on some of the votive candles and feeling strangely powerful.
Brother SwingsArms taking his morning walk.
Posted by jo(e)