Walking in the Snow
The Answer To “The Questions That Have Assailed Us All Day”
Yesterday I woke up to a world covered in snow.
I had gone to bed with a heaviness that is all too familiar.
I am forever grateful that mercies are new every morning.
And this snow that had come down all night long felt like an especially new mercy.
Like the whole earth was made new.
I put on all my warm clothes to go walking in the snow.
I can only walk a little ways since being sick. And I walk so slow.
But even a slow, short walk in the woods is enough to temporarily shake my body free of the weight on my chest.
I tromped out into the snow with childlike wonder.
Every branch worthy of stopping in awe.
Look at how the snow piles so high on a tiny twig.
The icing sugar snow is three or four times the thickness of the actual branch.
How does it hold the weight?
The snow was still falling as I made my way around camp, collecting snowflakes on my nose.
And in the hair that stuck out of my stocking cap.
I would take a few steps and then turn around to see my footprints, the only disturbance in the snow-covered path.
What a strange privilege to have this whole world of fallen snow all to myself.
No one else around for miles.
I returned to the cabin to watch the snow fall from inside.
Taking up my usual spot by the fire, I turned to my brand-new-for-2021 daily ritual of reading poetry.
A quick search brought up a whole catalog of snowy poems.
After reading through several, I landed on one about walking in the snow.
And I read it over and over again:
by Mary Oliver
this morning and all day
continued, its white
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
and the heavens still hold
a million candles, nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain — not a single
answer has been found —
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.
And though the questions
that have assailed us all day
Yes, Mary, I thought!
This perfectly expresses how when I go for a walk in the woods,
it certainly doesn’t fix everything…
the questions that have assailed me all day remain.
All day and especially when I try to go to sleep at night,
I am assailed by questions.
Will I ever be able to walk ten miles again? Or even two?
When will my strength return?
Will I be able to taste my food again?
When will I be able to see my children again?
Are they ok? Do they feel alone in the world?
How many more people will die of this virus?
What is going to happen to our country?
Can there ever be an end to corruption?
Will those in authority ever show the same respectful restraint of violence for Black lives that they show for angry white men?
Can the United States ever break free from our foundation of white supremacy, oppression and violence?
What is my role in such a world?
What does it mean to serve God when the church has lost its way?
Or is it me? Have I lost my way?
But then I walk outside.
Make my way to the waterfall, stop and watch the water come down over the rocks.
I watch the snowflakes fall into the not-yet-frozen pool of water.
This snow all around me does not offer a single answer to my questions.
And yet I have to agree with Mary Oliver, walking in the snow feels like one.