Contemplating the path and the light

In which I follow a well traveled path during a snowfall in search of something, I know not what

A bright light appears

I was sitting exactly where I sit now a few days ago in the late afternoon when the slight change in the sun’s angle suddenly illuminated the vase you see in the photo above. The striking flash of light caught the corner of my eye. Within a minute, it was gone, the sun having moved incrementally closer to the horizon and out of direct alignment.

I felt very pleased with myself for having noticed the effect and swiftly captured the image. I see in it a symbolism and a deeper message that I have perhaps been seeking. The sudden illumination and focus in a darker field of vision. I again think of Peterson’s maps. The room was not dark, though it appears very much in shadow in the photo. I had actually been appreciating the sunlight that filled the room. The overall darkness is rather a trick of exposure and focal point. I wonder if the same can be applied as a metaphor to other perceptions and ways of perceiving.

This morning, which is a similarly bright and sunny day, I am engaged in a quiet internal struggle. My action-packed dreams probably had a small hand in the way I am feeling, and I’ll describe them a little later. The issue that preoccupies me is an article I have been asked to write; that I have volunteered to write. I've taken my husband’s advice to heart and sought to contribute to the change I want to see with a skill I have honed over many years so that I consider myself relatively competent. I’m a writer; I volunteered to contribute by writing. But this writing is not coming easily, and in fact I feel wholly unqualified to be writing on the topic. I also feel unprepared emotionally or mentally for the attention this particular article and subject could garner. I don’t want the limelight and I am not a journalist. I write not to convince but to express and reframe and present my lived experience.

I have stalled. And as I move through my home this weekend, making a coffee, getting a snack, thinking about having a shower and getting dressed or going out for another walk, and as the children are both out and husband is upstairs leaving me to my thoughts and quiet pastimes, I am plagued by the nagging feeling that I should apply myself to this article that I no longer want to write.

But rather than writing the article, I’m writing this blog post. It seems a far more useful pursuit to me, at least right now.

The photos below are from a walk I took yesterday with husband and youngest child.

Seeing a direction

We entered the forest off the snowmobile/recreational trail. Getting there took much longer than it takes me on my own, as child wanted to walk slowly to appreciate the falling snow. And then she walked slowly because she was tired. And then her chin was cold. And then husband became irritated. Snow was falling, and quite fast and thick, though it doesn’t show in the images. Every few minutes, I shook off the accumulation on the trim of my hood and scarf. At every low snow-laden branch, child stood under it, and shook it to create her own personal blizzard.

On we trekked, following the path. Usually this path is more heavily travelled by snowmobiles and ATVs and other people walking their dogs. The surface is usually more well packed with more obvious evidence of other travelers.

Being in the depths of the forest

There’s an amazing thing about being surrounded by tall trees. The experience inspires awe and wonder at the forest’s vastness and the incredible variety of life that surrounds us. Husband and child stand there, blending in like short trees. How are we — and I mean by this communities of people — any different than a forest?

“Cannot see the forest for the trees” is cliché but true, as is the opposite. It’s also only a small part of the truth. Here, I tried to capture the vastness (not a job my cell phone camera was designed for, I’m afraid) and the feeling of being surrounded by silent protective sentinels.

There’s an unknown depth to the woods, to our individual experience of navigating the woods. There’s a path, and we generally followed it, though we took forays to investigate and meander through the deep snow. Stepping off the path was difficult. The snow was deep enough to be above boot tops, causing cold, wet ankles. But the reward was often worth the discomfort. Specific individual trees drew admiration more than others. Child was impressed by the largest trees; husband by the smooth bark of (what I think are) the massive beech interspersed throughout this mostly evergreen forest.

Too big to get a hold of

Child asked me to take this photo of her hugging this large tree so she could see what she looked like, how far she could reach. She is hidden by the trunk, and her effort is minimally visible as two mittens peeking out on the sides. Her footsteps show her orbiting approach to the other side.

How can we take stock and measure our efforts? From her perspective, reaching and stretching, trying to get her fingertips as far around the trunk as possible, this was a colossal effort. Surely, she was nearly there, very close to succeeding. Indeed, she was not, and nor would she be. Her physical size makes her incapable of wrapping her arms around that trunk. Should she have not tried? Should she, having now tried, move onto smaller trees? Perhaps. Perhaps the goal is not to succeed but to learn and understand and discover the relative size of things, herself included. Perhaps the real goal is to put your face right up close to the bark and breathe in. Perhaps there is some way the tree you attempt to hug will feel your presence and energy, and be changed by it. These are mysteries. Nevertheless, hugging a large tree occurred more than once.

The complexity

This tree was covered in a delightful delicate-green lichen. The color reminded me of verdigris, of something angelic and ethereal, also ancient. The lichen reminded me that not only is the forest full of mature and growing trees, of saplings and decaying branches, it is also teeming with other smaller organisms in symbiosis. And that beauty resides there, too.

I can get lost in the details and lost in the bigger picture. It’s useful to map out where you are, to continually reference your position in relation to your environment. Are you big? Yes. Are you small? Yes. What do you see? How do you see it? Where are you going next? How does your new perception change with each step you take?

And here, I am reminded of a poem that has long been one of my favorites. When I first read “Effort at Speech Between Two People”, I felt immediately moved. It seemed to convey a profound message that I lacked the ability to understand. Reading it, and re-reading it, and copying it out into notebooks was one of my first experiences of consciously enjoying the mystery of something, feeling inexplicably that it pointed to something more, something that would be transformative, if only I could get my head around it.

I won’t post it here in its entirety. Just this:

“Speak to me.          Take my hand.            What are you now?”

You can read the whole poem here. And here is a little bit about Muriel Rukeyser.

As promised, the dreams.

First, the one I woke from as husband was getting up: I was having coffee with my good friend, when there was a knock at the door and there appeared a neighbor from a long time ago who in my real world experience was nasty and boorish with me. She wanted to come in for a visit. I reluctantly invited her in, introduced her to my friend, and offered her coffee. She complained about not being able to sleep and so I offered her my special mix of sleepy time tea. I felt very good about being able to help solve her problems, and she was much nicer to me, and so the three of us had a nice, friendly visit.

Second, I woke myself out of this one and decided it was time to get up. I was being chased and shot at by a couple of husband’s good friends. It was Hollywood-level action that included me hiding under the table and behind a dining chair in an Italian restaurant where the owner was telling us about how he had acquired a new mattress and that he hadn’t slept so well in years, while my mom was paying the bill for our meal with her credit card and we were trying to sort out an unpaid $5.31 for my son’s miniature glass of red wine, all the while husband’s two friends were shooting through the restaurant window at me. There was something I had or something I knew. I fled down to the restaurant’s basement where I discovered I was in the basement of a theatre, and then found a narrow winding stairway with pink-carpeted stairs that led up to some upper levels of the stage, and the two friends were clambering after me with their long guns. My plan was to slip onto the stage and hide out unseen for the duration of the play…

Action packed, pursued, chaotic.

And this leads me to my current state of — what is it? Anxiety? Agitation? Restlessness? I’m avoiding the article, that’s for sure. I’m constantly trying to put together a complex puzzle that no one will ever have a complete picture of because there are just too many pieces. I sense that understanding eludes me, and if I only I could make my brain, my focus, a little sharper I might find it. Or more time. It’s not dissimilar to trying to thread a needle. These days, I need glasses to do it in under five tries. I’m aimless and looking for meaning, and purpose, constantly trying to gauge and assess. Where am I? Where am I going? What should I do?