The stillness bears down on us like a suspenseful moment in a crowded movie theater. With it’s patrons too afraid to move or make a sound, one can hear a pin drop. Frozen in time, it’s our thoughts which seem loudest. The sound of the ravens soaring above our corniced perch are our companions this calm afternoon. We peer up at the sky to hear the squawk of the bird, echoing down on us and out into the space beyond. A space that marks a change on the horizon, a change which will bring wind. This is one of many memories of winter, and it’s this imprint left upon my soul which keeps with me all year long. No longer do the birds of summer fill the air with music from the trees, yet the sound of a solitary raven from time to time will interrupt my current state of concentration.
The stillness and inactivity we bear witness to when viewing a frosty scene; the theft of traditional visual stimulation along with the calm of frozen time, gives everything else between my two ears more of a voice than before. The cacophony of color we enjoy in spring and fall is gone. Landscapes now awash in a monochrome paint scheme, draw us closer to those things that strain and rebel against the palette of white, grey and black. The explosion of color and activity of summer, numbs the brain with too much stimulation forcing us to wonder outside ourselves; it’s the winter that allows us to catch up to our thoughts and explore the deeper spaces within.
The nights come early and the mornings come late; our time spent warming ourselves in our bags runs long, forcing ourselves to focus inward our thoughts, fears and hopes. As we surround ourselves with things of comfort to protect us from the storm, we do so with our emotions as well. Resisting the urge to lay awake in the warmth of our down cocoons, we steal our resolve to move away from the comfort of a warm down bag with the greater promise of a stoked fire, a warm cup of matte and a hot cup of oatmeal. Outside, the wind bends the limbs into cruel sounds as they brush and scrape against the lean-to we reside in. Creaking and groaning is added to the symphony as the pillar of our shelter bends and sways with the gale-force winds.
Yesterday’s peaceful existence is contrasted by today’s violence, proving that in the quiet of the season; winter can still be dynamic with violent winds heralding yet another change. Its freezing precipitation sticks to every inch of my GORE-TEX and beard, forming a mask in white around me as I slowly move up the ridge away from my shelter. In this blindingly abrasive noise, again; our thoughts turn inwards. The foreboding nature of wind is not to be underestimated…it robs us of our easy hopes for the future and concentrates our every thought in the now. Traverse this rock band, place this foot here, anchor my ice axe on this slab, stay away from that cornice. The wind has the power to make previously benign thoughts that much more important; and important thoughts that much more benign. Every simple movement I make against the wind is appreciated and hard won.
It’s in this environment that we find focus. There are no worries of bills left unpaid, conversations gone astray with loved ones; there is a single purpose, to move forward and to be safe. In this focus, clarity is sometimes found in a singular thought which, surprisingly, is not always germane to the task of staying alive. Rather, it’s a thought rooted in trust, trust of the person that chooses to share in this adventure with me. Trust that this person has my best interests at heart, and mine in theirs. Trust that they will not let me down and I will not of them. This trust remains unspoken, undeclared; yet ever-present as the crunch-squeak of firm snow beneath my boots is felt in my toes with every passing footstep.
Every neuron not dedicated to being safe is focused on this singular thing…..conclusions are reached at a preternatural pace and in an honestness which can’t be found anywhere else. Our thoughts are as exposed here as is our perch on this runout pitch of ice and snow. Resolve is gained, purpose renewed; we march upward into the snowball which is our world.
Winter offers up a stark tableau for contemplation. It is a time for reflection on the way things should be, and how they should play out when spring returns. It’s a time of renewal for some, and yet an end for others….however I see it as a beginning. It’s the last of the seasons….yet, thoughts are born in the frozen air around me…and from this, comes action for the coming year. Many see winter as a death, and spring as a birth…..I’ve never been in tune with this process of thought. To me, winter is the birth of ideas and spring the realization of those thoughts….summer being the plateau of existence marked by maturation, and fall being the completion of the cycle.
I once wrote that our confidences are bounded by our fears, with our ability to see the spaces between critical to our success. So many view winter as a time to hold fast, and wait for better weather; as if the very obstacles the season brings are a barrier to all things productive. Sometimes the spaces between are often…the spaces less seen, the steep pitch up the ridge and the windy and cold path away from the shelter. Nothing is easy in winter…which is precisely why it’s worth exploring. Thoughts are born here as in all seasons…fair weather and bad….it’s up to us to explore them all, otherwise we’re left with a squewed perspective, a predisposition for one season above another and a preference for the comfort of ease over the reward found in challenge.