Winter began early, with vigor and enthusiasm. Still a couple of days away from the solstice, the snowpack is nearly a foot deep here on The Hill. It remains to be seen how much the predicted warm weekend weather will reduce it. My bet is that we will have a White Christmas here on The Hill.
Elk Mountain Ski Resort has nearly all their trails open – quite unusual this early in the season. The snow, natural collaborating with man-made, has had some describing the sensation of skiing this week as “crushing velvet with your skis.” Though cold weather would be more desirable, rest assured, the skiing will continue to be outstanding, record warmth notwithstanding.
Faithful buddy black labrador has been enjoying night cross-country skiing in the woods the past few evenings, my headlamp illuminating our way, our ski and paw tracks crossing deer, fox, and coyote tracks as we make our way through the woods and meadows.
The lights of Elk Mountain and the full moon illuminate the snow, sparkling and squeaking under ski and paw; other than our breathing, the only sound.
Trusting each other to protect each other, me having the opposing thumbs, she having the sharp teeth, the deep night beyond the range of my headlamp reminds us that our neighbor recently captured an image of a mountain lion on their trail camera in the valley just below the meadow through which we ski.
Vigorous exercise in 10 degree weather is the perfect antidote for my buddy’s boredom, easing her, bringing sleep to her more readily, letting her rest till dawn.
“My apples, my apples, MY APPLES!!!” is a fairly accurate Labrador/English translation of her sharp alert bark that startled me awake at 4 AM this morning. The provocation revealed as I peered out the window to see three doe scratching snow from the last of the fruit that had fallen around the apple tree weeks ago.
I went downstairs to console her, to tell her to stop barking, and to feel good about sharing her apples. Those girls, I explained to my buddy, have been having a tough go of it lately. My buddy, somewhat reluctantly, relented, and quietly let the doe eat their fill as dawn began to break.
An early morning treat of sweet apples must be a delightful respite from having to keep constant vigilance, avoiding the hunters in the woods, who for the past several days, for sport or sustenance, have been tracking and hunting these girls, their friends, and families.
By default it seems, us humans tend to forget that we too are animals. Just like our woodland creature neighbors, all our motivations distill to the desire to eat, mate, and avoid fear.
In the woodland world, some are prey, some are predators, some both. This truth can make the distinction between good and bad, evil or good blurry at best. To the deer, the hunter is evil – an instrument of death. To the hunter’s family, he is good, a hero, provider of food. Had the lioness pounced on me and took me back to feed me to her brood, this perspective, though accurate, would probably not be so easy to assume.
Unlike the beings in the woods who must maintain vigilance against predators, or be in constant search of food or mates, our human community has the capacity for calm, joy, and bliss.
It’s not so hard really to have these positive feelings almost all the time; it takes just a little mental effort. As we near the shortest day of the year, we remember that all the celebrations at this time of year started with our ancient family, who’s understanding of the sun, moon, and stars defined their lifestyle. They too traveled dark woods filled with tracks of animals.
Our ancestors huddled facing a common fire, backs to the dark, and celebrated light, celebrated each other, as they waited together for dawn to overwhelm the longest night of the year.
The trust my best buddy and I have in each other gives us the confidence to venture together into the darkness of the woodland community; we both find comfort in the realization that as long as we stay together, we’ll be safe.
If, in our human community, we realize that all of us are facing challenges unique to our individual lives and, no matter the strength of one’s character, our paths are made easier by cooperation.
If we simply cherish each other as if our life depends on it, if we simply honor the common light of divinity that animates all of us, fear and uncertainty can’t help but be overcome by comfort, calm, joy, and bliss.
And always, always, share your apples, and let yourself feel good about it.