I remember well my first cross-country ski outing after I moved from the city to the country.
Big, heavy flakes of snow had fallen all night and were still falling when I headed for the Interval - the flood plain of the Saco River - on my cross-country skis. It was what we used to call "good snowball snow," the kind that falls just before spring. Since my move last month, cross-country skiing had become my main form of exercise.
The Interval, as it's called in my Maine town, was mine that day, no question about it. Not a snowmobile had yet crossed its pristine surface. My goal turned out to be not a destination, but the task of relieving bowed trees of their burden of wet, heavy snow. With one ski pole, I tapped the first birch on its figurative shoulder. It promptly straightened up as the snow fell off in blobs. I moved to another tree.
I repeated this tap with each succeeding birch, as though I were passing my respectful subjects bowed in deference to my status as queen of the Interval. I could almost hear their sighs of homage as they sprang upright from their positions of obeisance.
The silence was broken only by clumps of snow dropping from the trees with a plip-plop into the brook running beside the trail. They were gentle sounds, in stark contrast to the stridency of what I had become accustomed to hearing in the city. I found myself frequently gliding to a stop to listen for other murmurs escaping from this blanketed landscape.
As I listened, I scanned the perimeters of the fields, defined by trees, fence posts, and tips of shrubs. There were no people. When my eyes lifted to the distant hills that edge the Cold River Valley beyond the Saco, my thought soared, too. All was wrapped in silence.
I waited, poised for the profound insights that I had been educated to expect from nature and solitude. Then I noticed another clump of birches across the field that needed freeing from the heavy snow. Was that the message I had been waiting for? Couldn't my practical nature take a backseat just for once, making way for a sunlit burst of inspiration?
Perhaps I should ignore this summons. But wasn't I finding joy in charting new trails? And hadn't I found it rewarding to release the previous birches from their bonds of snow? If there were deeper insights to be gained from this brief encounter with nature, couldn't I be confident that they'd be revealed?
Cherishing that assurance, I headed across the blank snow to rescue this new group of trees and found the same joy accompanying each rebounding bough.
Task completed, I skied across a natural bridge of land between two small bodies of water, coming upon acres of young Christmas trees, their miniature forms and pointed tips standing firm under the covering of snow, needing no help from me. Skiing from the tree farm to my farm was a mini-roller coaster ride of little dips and rises, with only one small stream to bridge with my skis.
When I returned from this exhilarating trip through the Interval, I contemplated, over a cup of hot chocolate, the beauty and glory it had offered up to me today. I had felt an intimacy with its simple starkness, and a contentment. But where were the revelations I had been expecting?
Then it occurred to me that I had missed the obvious. What I had been seeking had been revealed to me in quiet, unobtrusive ways - in the stillness of the Interval, in its solitude, in its spacious expanses, in the satisfaction of freeing the trees. Did I need any more than that?
Through those things, I had received the most important insight of all: confirmation that I had made the right decision and that the next chapter in my life would be written in the country that is now my home.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society