This last weekend a small group of us gathered at Still Point Mountain Retreat for "Simply Silence". Between mindfully pausing to mark the hours in the Benedictine rhythm, there was time for experiencing the many dimensions of silence while wandering in the winter woods, making art, dreaming, meditating, and reading or writing as each was led. This is what emerged for me:
It's been winter here on the mountain, no doubt about it. It's not been one of those flirty winters we've grown accustomed to, with a dash of snow here and there, and only a few days that asked for the poofy parka and thermal hat. No. Like most of the East, we had snow before Christmas, "polar vortex" temperatures, two storms in January, and ice in the middle of this week. It's not been easy: Sheep moved from field to barn to field to barn as the weather commands; and every morning, their drinking water in the metal tub frozen rock hard like a boulder; firewood hauled from pile to porch to stove on what seems like an hourly basis; chickens cooped up and going bonkers.
In the woods a week ago, everything was still. Struggling up the gentle hillside, guessing at the contours of the path as I went, all I heard were my swishing steps and the hard-working in and out of my breath. At the top, where the ground levels and the forest thins into the memorial grove, I stopped. Silence. The snow lay over the earth like a wide, deep muffler, and the soundscape was profoundly, densely, unshakably quiet. It was the hush of an empty cathedral, or a tomb.
Then, on Wednesday, we awoke to a fairyland of crystalline trees and smoked mirror walkways. Black bushes bedecked in silver filigree stretched and twined elegant limbs. Slivers of icicles hung like a shiny fringes from the bird feeders and the lattice of the pergola. For some moments, the magic held. Then the air shifted, and the forest caught the faint glimmer of a vernal sun on the move. Music began. Josh, walking with his little daughter Emma across the field by the garden, thought it sounded like rain. It was the warming wind singing through the icy trees.
Recently I stumbled upon a thought (not mine) that contained an image that entranced me: now, at this time of year, under the ground, the seeds are busy choosing the shapes and colors they will become. They feel the earth's incremental, slow tilt, and they sigh, shift from their slumber, and begin. All this happens below, while we gaze at icicles. So much of what is important is unseen.
But we catch glimpses. At community supper, Jackie noted that the male finches are turning a dusky yellow, a pale foreshadowing of their summer neon glory. This morning, while walking in the woods near Still Point, I heard some other birds restart the conversation they had dropped a season ago: "cheater, cheater, cheater," accused the cardinal, insistently. "Tut, tut, tut," came the reply.
I know it's early days yet. The Still Point pond remains a frozen white sheet, with only a few widening circles of liquid dark. The trees are bare. Crusty patches of glistening snow cling to the piles of limp brown leaves on the forest floor. Yet I am reminded of the chapter in C. S. Lewis' tale of Narnia when the children begin to understand that Aslan is returning. They hear only a faint, unfamiliar rustle and realize that it is the sound of water flowing, far off, and still just barely a whisper.
This afternoon I took the path from the pond to the power line and turned left to catch the perimeter trail toward Krishna Brook. As I walked along the small rise, I caught a sound: the cadence of rushing water. Then, descending and rounding the bend, I saw it. In the bare woods, the hidden waterfall revealed itself, unsheltered by summer foliage. Water was pouring exuberantly over the rocks, slipping through the crevices, dancing over edges, splashing joyously into pools and eddies, then flowing on. The motion and sound of the water was hypnotic. I was spellbound for a few moments, thinking of nothing, staring. Then I turned and walked back through the winter woods.