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.

Monk walking

Brother SwingsArms taking his morning walk.


Linda (FM) said...

I felt the cold winter air this morning as I was clearing several inches of snow from my car. I don't remember it bringing clarity. I just remember it being cold. What am I doing wrong?

Anonymous said...

My son and I (both iced out of school) took a glorious walk through our woods this afternoon--it was warm, icy and wet. The woods were a gorgeous extravaganza of icicles. We spent an hour scramling through the crusty wet snow, browsing the clear ice off of twigs and branches at mouth height. We saw our deer, who have been avoiding our yard all winter, and they were completely astonished to see people down there. They are hard on people's hostas, so they're generally disliked around here, but I love them. They brought the icy woods to pulsating life, and I'm pleased to share my garden with them in the summer. So on our walk, the rain kept falling, and the icicles kept lengthening, and then the trees started breaking down, to the extent that it was no longer safe to be out in the woods and we had to go home. Since then the rain hasn't stopped, and every drop freezes onto whatever it touches. Power transformers are blowing up all over the neighborhood, going off like cannon shots with peach colored lightning flashes, and the carnage with the trees is terrible. They're going down like bowling pins, on the streets and driveways, ripping into people's porches, and still the rain keeps falling and the ice keeps piling up. I picked up my wife, who had to work late, from the bus stop three hours ago, and in the time since, almost a full inch of glare ice has covered my car. Just as we got home, another power transformer right up the street blew, and it caught an ice-coated tree on fire, such is the unbearable energy those things channel to our houses. Our power has been out most of the night. A fireman was walking under a tree just as a gust of wind blew, right across the street, and a branch overhead cut loose with a sickening crack and hiss of cascading crystals. He scrambled, slipped and fell on the icy lawn, but the wood of the branch missed him, only lashing him with broken twigs and a mound of tubular ice shards. The rain keeps falling, and the trees keep crashing down. It's a beautiful and terrible night here in Rivertown.

Artist Friend

jo(e) said...

Linda: Well, it mostly only works for me when I'm on retreat. I mean, I live in climate with lots of cold winter air, and most of the time, I'm in some kind of fog ....

Artist Friend: I love your descriptions. What a great way to spend the afternoon. I wish I lived closer and could have taken that walk with you and the boy.

We're bracing for another storm here tonight -- they are saying another foot of snow and high winds. The kids are hoping for a snow day tomorrow.

Sarah Sometimes said...

beautiful pictures and lovely images. I am hoping we have a snow day where I teach at night, although so far nothing much is going on outside.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Cool pix! I STILL WISH I could go to the Monastery with yoU!!!!! XOX

listmaker said...

I love your pictures of the scenery around the monastery; the hills remind me of home.