it is late fall of 1997. i go out for a morning walk with my dog. it has been snowing the whole night. first real snow this year. my dog is exuberant with joy. she is playing with the snow as if it were an old and dear friend. she is jumping around, baring her teeth in what seems like a genuine big smile. her red tongue is hanging out. she is tasting the snow. or is she talking to it? in my family we had a theory on why our dog was always so happy with a first snow. she was born in october and probably taken outside for the first time a few weeks later when the snow was already covering the ground. it was possibly how she saw the outside world that day. we never saw her elevated in quite the same way as during the first few days of the first snow each of the sixteen years that she was a part of our lives.
i don’t remember when i experienced snow for the first time. it must have been at an age too young to have memories from. it has always been there, a regular occurrence. i was skiing from the age of five coached by my dad, an avid and proficient skier. then we moved to a climate where snow fell only occasionally and did not stay for long. i stopped skiing and never picked it up again even after moving back north again at the age of fourteen.
snow is many things to me. it is a vast plain baltic landscape, absolutely white in the winter. it is warm and comfortable clothes, big woolen scarves, and hats, and mittens. it is home-brewed mulled wine with friends on a freezing evening. it is having to clean the car every morning before going to work. it is silence. it is clarity. and it is chaos.
the way i react to snow is very contextual. if am in a cabin or a house in the woods somewhere and it snows heavily day after day, i enjoy it. i imagine being cut off from the rest of the world, sheltered and hidden by all the snow – i’m in a happy place. having lived in a big city for many years, however, i almost came to hate snow. winters last up to seven months. the snow rarely stays nice and magical. it turns into dirty mulch, freezes overnight and makes walking the streets the next morning a strenuous exercise in balancing and maneuvering. going to work every morning is a struggle. i curse and despair and wish for the summer to take over immediately. right then, right there i’m in a miserable place…
I look out the window, my forest in sight – a black bristling mass ensconced in the bright bluish-white light that is the snow. I stare for a while, entranced, music in my head. I am coming.
I take my dog and walk out the door. Anticipation rises… and falls echoing my breathing. Will they be there?
It is cold, very cold. The exhale lingers in front of my face, a thick cloud of white steam. The night is still as time itself. I am close. I move slowly but steadily, every step a celebration of the purifying solitude. The dog darts around me, an extension of myself, a sixth sense.
We are alone, at last. I feel quietly exhilarated if only a bit scared. But that’s good. Fear is a creative force.
We advance along the tree line, a frozen meadow melting into it. We are listening, making stops and taking in the air as if for clues of their presence. But they would never give themselves away like that.
Suddenly, the dog disappears into the trees for a moment and then peeks out happily, tongue hanging out, inviting me in. I hesitate and cross the line into the dark comfort of the forest. Not a sound.
I sit under a tree, looking up, waiting. They are watching, I sense it. Somehow I imagine them having bright-orange eyes, almost as if filled with fire. They are deep, prolonged and all-knowing. Of course, I have never seen them. There is no need. I can hear them. With my skin, with my whole body.
My eyes are closed. I am dancing. I am one with the trees.
england met me with a heat wave and bird-singing for an alarm-clock. the lake district in the country’s north west is gorgeous with its fells (local word for ‘mountains’), tarns (small fell-top lakes), becks and gills, and of course the big long lakes such as windermere – the biggest of all in the uk.
apparently, october is the rainiest month here. water comes down in showers, sprinkles, and hale or simply hangs in the air as mist. tree trunks are covered in moss and are often overgrown with creeping plants. when entering the woods one might get a menacing feeling. i haven’t quite put my finger on it yet… fells are covered in vast stretches of bracken that is presently deep-brown in color.
i haven’t quite connected to the nature here, yet. everything is different. the smells relate nothing to me. birds are plentiful but also largely unfamiliar. i must say, though, that spotting two massive herons in a mountain stream was a treat!