Winter Thoughts

Early in the day it was whispered that we should sail in a boat, only thou and I, and never a soul in the world would know of this our pilgrimage to no country and to no end. (Tagore)

Winter for me always conjures introspectivity. It’s a quiet place, and I grew up craving it like a true Minnesotan. Early morning routines in the dark: pulling on boots, tying the laces tight over thickly knit socks. Jacket, scarf, hat, gloves. The cold stealing my breath even in the huddled silence of a dark car, waiting for the engine to warm. Every year, without fail, it snows hard on my birthday, like a gift.

I’ve always loved winter for this feeling. In the eighth grade my class trekked up a few hours north to Ely, Minnesota, to stop at the International Wolf Center. Only a few hours’ journey more and we would have been at the Canadian border. Up here there was no particular sense of space or time, with entire boughs of waterfall frozen in unforgiving slats of ice, the temperature well below negative twenty Fahrenheit, slurring my sense of passage. My toes were numb even with heat packs stuffed into the tips of my boots. Settled well into the Iron Range, the water from the faucet tasted like rust, so I sipped at half-solidified apple juice from my water bottle as I snowshoed across a long stretch of tundra. At night we howled for the wolves. The sky was somewhere between dusk and dawn, a heavy purple. Two wolves howled back.

I savor this feeling, that break in continuity, the ground still solid beneath my feet but taking me somewhere I do not quite know. When I think about faith I let my mind settle here. Recently I have been meditating on this hushed place. It finds me, or I it, in times when I am sure of little else but snowfall. Last December I meditated fiercely here. I had just dislocated my left shoulder and been prescribed four weeks’ rest from martial arts. It had been nearly two years since I had gone a night without martial arts, let alone a month’s worth, and I was so unsure of what to do with myself, literally– learning a strange body, foreign bones, foreign motions– that I would sit and watch entire nights go past me, the sky turning gray then purple then dark. What is strength? How am I finding meaning in weakness? How am I finding meaning in growth? I prayed: please, let this have some meaning, if nothing else. 

This December I find myself in that clearing again, wordless. Though this time I know there is meaning in that which is difficult, inevitably and without fail. There is meaning if we seek it. Some context: I haven’t written and reflected like this since mid-October. After coming out to my mom I found myself putting back the smallest pieces of myself together, mending that which I didn’t know had to be mended. Always I have kept my queerness separate from normal life, tucked away from the good me who loves her mother and her mother-temple, and the rush of intimacy with which I had to confront left me breathless. Almost too much meaning. Retreat into a quiet space, not contemplative, but protective. The snow came at just the right time: love in insulation. Faith too big a bite to chew as a religious concept, but necessary as a definitive one: I trust. I believe. My god loves girls who love girls, I’d like to think, but this is a thought to unpack in the spring.

Even in the times when we are desperately unsure there is a space for contemplation. When I howled under that glassy sky, feeling maybe stupid and maybe hopeful, I let the frozen snow beneath my boots carry me forward. In the absolute silence that can only come with tundra two wolves howled back.

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