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Winter walks

First slide

It is my first winter in the Northeast. Here, snow falls upon fallen snow. Great mounds are piled in parking lots and driveway margins, and one wonders if they will melt before April. I’ve been outside quite a lot, actually. Though I have neglected to buy drapes or rugs for our new house, we are all fully outfitted in appropriate attire for comfortably spending hours outdoors even in February. 

For this, I am very grateful. I am also sure it has saved my sanity. 

The sky is nearly always gray. I’m not outdoors seeking sunshine. And clearly, I’m not seeking warmth. I think, instead, I’m seeking what is real. The outdoors is the place least touched by the pandemic. When I am there, all feels normal, save for a few people wearing masks to snowshoe. Even in those cases, a mask is just as often a winter face covering. 

Indoors, our friendships are virtual and flat and take on the weird glow of screens. Very few people cross the threshold. With the exception of my son and daughter-in-law’s, I have not seen the inside of another person’s home since I got here seven months ago. We have — very carefully — invited people into our house. Mostly, they have accepted. But other people’s homes remain closed tightly. 

Outside, when we see people, it’s fine to stop and say hello. Perhaps we’ll watch our dogs play together or stand at the top of the hill and compare notes on puppies. Fleeting encounters give way to promises to reconnect when life is normal again, and then I’m off to walk in silence. And there in the cold and the snow, the silence is welcome. Away from the flat, glow-y conversations inside screens, away from the artificial light that tries to be cozy and misses, away from the places where handshakes and hugs are anathema, the outdoors is crisp and alive and open and beautiful and just the same as it once was. It is also quiet. 

There is no feeling in the outdoors that I am missing out, no sense that a vital piece of human living is missing. There is only the peace that comes with feeling fully alive. Heaven meets earth outside, and prayer unfurls across great expanses of snowy countryside. God takes my hand and together we trod clumsy, crunchy steps, shivering as the snow slips over the tops of boots, delighting in the puppy bounding ahead. In the quiet of the outdoors, I have the companionship of the Almighty. I don’t feel as if I’m missing out. I don’t feel small or unimportant or forgotten. I feel awake and awash in the wonder of his majestic artistry.

The puppy, now a leggy adolescent with abundant energy, requires a good walk at least three times a day, preferably four or five. And so we go — for 30 minutes or an hour at a time, we walk. And I pray. Like a good monk, I am called into his presence and I go. Our walks are brisk, but unhurried. My mind is awake and alert. I outline book chapters. I draft letters inside my head. I let ideas take root and flower. I examine my conscience and repent and resolve to do better. 

Mostly, I give thanks.

For fresh air. For beautiful landscapes. For quiet conversations with the Creator.

For the chance to feel as if all is right with the world.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021