Monday, February 1, 2016

Entering Winter, Leaving the House:
Reflections on Braving the Winter (& Finding it Blessed)


I love to hike on Mondays. On all days, actually, but I take Mondays off of work (a happy consolation for never having weekends free) and so, of all the days I love to hike, Mondays are the days I am most likely to be found doing the thing I love.

Surprisingly, it takes considerable effort to do the things I love the thought of.

To love hiking is to love seasons. To live in Wisconsin is to have more seasons to love! I love each season in the way I love my children: equally, differently, appreciating quirks and strengths and wonders in this one that I know better than to look for in the others. Best to receive each one open-heartedly. Thankfully.

In spring, the ice melt on the marsh, with its stratified, moldering layers of leaf, can look disarmingly (and sometimes dangerously) like land. Summers bring the captivating sparkle of the sunlight on the waters. Autumn in Wisconsin is fireworks of foliage in slow motion, brought to life by angles of the sun's light peculiar to this season. Winter is a lot of things. For a few weeks every year, from this Texan's perspective, winter is simply too cold to enjoy.

I am predictably reluctant to embrace winter in the way that hiking requires. Ever-available, and without much effort, is the aesthetic appreciation of winter through windows by fireside. Of course, to truly enter winter involves exiting the house. Winter, for me, is a challenge to love.

But today I remembered what my heart never quite fully forgets: winter is worth it.

Today it was the footprints in the snow. When I am alone on a hike in the snow, the footprints around me make the similarly solitary wanderings of others visible. The footsteps could have been from other days, but when I see them I feel the company of the ones who, at least not too long ago, likewise indulged an impulse to brave the cold and go out wandering. They wear all kinds of shoes and boots. Some of those shoes and boots lead up to the snowman ahead of me. The steps of the builders are distinct from those of later admirers, which stop short of the piece. Some, maybe most, of the prints today belong to animals. (The hoof prints of deer inevitably leave me all too aware of my physical limitations.) Whether booted or hooved, alone or with others, the wanderings of all of these creatures led them to this place of wandering, the place of my present wandering, even if none of us has words to say why.

Sometimes, when I arrive at the St. Francis House Chapel before the last night's snowfall has been removed, I see the snow prints of seekers who tried the chapel door in the middle of the night and, finding it locked, turned back. Ironically, the search for God made in the cover of darkness, with the promise of secrecy - à la Nicodemus - is memorialized, exposed, by the inch deep footprints cast in snow.

Footprints profess the possibilities perceived by the ones who make them. I try to learn from footprints.

I find comfort in footprints, too. Other children of God wandered this way, found that trail interesting. Sometimes, they see possibilities off the trail I hadn't seen. Sometimes, as today with the frozen creeks, they see possibilities off the trail I will lack the courage to take. Other times, though, I follow those footsteps. Learn from them. Try on a new "possible" and discover new worlds. Walk on frozen waters.

These are my communion of saints.

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