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Snowfall and Stillness

December 28, 2012

I feel like I have been on the road since last summer’s solstice.

I moved across town.  I moved across the country.  I left it all behind and walked three hundred kilometers.  I moved across a city. I flew to conferences, crossing paths with old friends and new.  I drove hundreds of miles through ancient oceans.  I went home for Thanksgiving and found it strange.  And now it’s the holidays and, once again, I find myself travelling.

The wind in autumn’s birches,
the splash of icy water,
the snort of reindeer, the peeps of marsh birds
whisper: Go home, wanderer;
Winter walks the wilderness,
and the ways are closing.

It was a turbulent autumn.  I left my friends and community behind and plopped myself down into a whole new set of people.  I had crossed some of their paths before.  It didn’t matter; living among people is very different from meeting them in passing. I had been in my new city before and that didn’t help either; I had changed a lot in the intervening years, and that made the world look very different.  I had a purpose and a path which I had never had before, but still little idea of how to walk it.  As the light of fall failed, I found myself groping through the darkness, trying to assemble the pieces of my new life.

I came home and found the windows dark,
the doors shut, the hearth cold.
The halls where friends once gathered
now breathed silence. Stale bread
and dregs of tea make bitter welcomes.
The wind in chimneys cries: Go home!
But waiting boots and loaded pack
and a gaping door lead onwards.

Settling, in a geological sense, is what happens when a fluid no longer flows fast enough to support a particle’s weight.  Unsupported, the particle sinks though the water column until it reaches its bed – ocean, lake, or river.  It might have travelled far, from mountain or gorge down to floodplain or delta, before falling into rest with its brethren.  So saying that I’ve settled into my new life implies a passive process which is not especially accurate.  I have been trying so hard to make my home.  I come back to my tiny apartment for dinner – properly cooked, if solitary.  I hang peppers in the windows to dry.  I make my bed and sort my beans and polish my shoes.  I go to dances where I know no one, and leave with a few more names. I listen at coffee hour; eventually, I speak.  I pile books onto the empty shelves of my new office and skid, sock-footed, down the silent halls on the weekends.  I accept invitations and make small talk with strangers.  I throw open my windows and play music for the wind.

In the twilit corridors of the city,
women light candles for their departed:
the lost, the lonesome,
the running, the returning.
These labyrinthine streets
are crossroads
for ten thousand lives
that never linger.

The holidays came and again I packed my bags. This time was different; instead of strange cities and weatherbeaten wilds, the open doors of many friends lay before me.  The shortest day of the year found me on a bus bound into the hills; the next morning I woke in this town that I love, in the house of my people, and oh joy of joys, it was snowing.  The nights may still be long and dark, but my heart feels light indeed; and as the sun on its yearly course has stilled, so too have my feet, for a time.

Snow has kept falling over this valley, muffling forests, drifting against rock walls, obscuring paths.  We have congregated with feasting and games, greenery and flames.  The darkness and the blue, snowy woodland gather us together, and at last, I feel at peace.

The Winter King now reigns
from his drafty hall,
his crown a wreath of holly,
his scepter a guttering torch,
his orb a cellared root
from summer’s stock.
On meadows of frost-flowers
spill song and light
from open doors,
and my overflowing heart
weeps tears
of love.

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