Solstice

The coyote stops midstep, left paw held aloft as if responding to a command to “shake,” and cocks his head quizzically at me. “We’re not doing all that, are we?” he seems to say. I stifle a smile – bared teeth are a sign of aggression to most of our branch of the taxonomic tree. But I shake my head, snort a little steam cloud of amusement into the frigid air, and keep going in the direction I’d been headed when we encountered each other on our morning routines. No, you and I don’t have any business with each other this morning.

Winter does this to a body. Somehow, we recognize that it’s hard out there, and that causing unnecessary hardship to another is against the way of the land. We’re all just trying to get by, aren’t we? Besides, we have no more chickens or ducks here for friend coyote to plunder, nor any baby goats or sheep for him to harass. Honestly, most of the time he and his family are a boon to the farm, feasting on the rodents that would sap our orchard roots, and keeping the deer enough on their toes not to look too longingly at the luscious new growth in their tips sprout in spring. They’re not bad neighbors, these coyotes, and they’ve been on this land far longer than we have.

I’ve been trying to take morning walks, trying to get my own self back into the rhythm of the farm after so much travel. Yes, there’s even more travel ahead, but it’s like physical exercise: there’s no excuse for skipping a day just because you’re going to miss the day after that.

And of course the walks are their own reward – the brisk stillness of pre-dawn gray, the sound of ice crackling underfoot. The way the snow perches, ornamenting the willow fence, the hawthorns, the old Kioti. It helps you get out of your head, out of this modern habit of living at our fingertips, always reaching for what’s out there, reaching for what’s next. No, the cold, the stillness, the solitude is good for meditating, for bringing yourself back inside the physical you that’s here, right here and now.

I’ve gotten into the habit of setting up the woodstove the night before. When wakefulness finds me it’s a relatively simple proposition to navigate barefoot in the memorized darkness to the lighter I keep in the hollow to its side and touch flame to the waiting tinder. Once it’s fully caught, I allow myself some simple yoga stretches – ironically, “sun salutations” – gauging my form by my shadow from the fire on the kitchen wall.

Yes, then email, the blue electronic glow of The World Out There, but I’ve gotten better about keeping that to just a pass through the morning email and a check of online news and weather. This morning’s Writer’s Almanac held a quotation that took to me, Edward Hoagland observing that, “Country people do not behave as if they think life is short; they live on the principle that it is long, and savor variations of the kind best appreciated if most days are the same.” I can’t claim to be a “country person,” but I do enjoy the life of a country person and, this morning, am more than happy to claim Hoagland’s words as justification for my attempts at routine.

By the time it is light enough to see without help of the fire, I’ve dressed, chopped another batch of pears into the pot to simmer for pear butter and put away the stragglers of last night’s dishes. Outside, a broken gray sky hangs over the silent snowscape – a curtain raised on the next act: “Morning, after the longest night of the year. A lone character stands silhouetted at the window.”

Taking the compost out is always a good excuse for a walk, and once out, continuing down the lane beyond the midden never takes much thought. I left the pail on a fencepost and let the sound of ice under my feet carry me onward.

This turning toward winter has been a hard season in many ways. Friends have lost loved ones, as have I. Hopes and dreams have gone awry, their broken pieces gathered and put away with words of “maybe some other time.” We only trust that the seeds of the new year, of its promise, lie dormant beneath the snow because they always have in the past. With the waning of the light, that promise can begin to feel impossibly far away.


But solvitur ambulando – it is solved by walking. Somehow, walking on such a still, silent morning fixes all this. Even before the sun has risen on the new day, the air, the trees and buildings and tractors adorned with snow, and the dance-step tracks of chickadees and scrub jays at my feet help me find my place in it all. I just need to take care of what I can. And friend coyote, who I meet on my way back? He’s going to take care of what he can. The rest of it, the big ‘this’, all of the rest of it, is going to take care of itself too, it’s going to keep going the way it always has.

The coyote seems to get that. He stops a few more times as we pass at a safe distance – trust, but verify, as the Russians say – and go about our morning business.

5 responses to “Solstice

  1. Love it. I felt like I was there with you on your walk and envious of your ability to express life so accurately and vividly with our limited collection of words.

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    Liked by 1 person

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