harsh gifts


dscf0281After that morning of sheltering warmth, we filled our bellies with lunch and the belly of the furnace with logs*, then set out into the biting cold to trek across the expanse of the frozen lake to the island. The gusting wind was driving the snow across our path and into our faces like dry sand in the desert, turning the sky in front of us as at times as white as the snow beneath out feet. It was fabulous.

Fabulously wild and alive.

But looking out the window at that rising wind before our departure, I’d felt something quite the opposite. Uncertainty -about the wisdom of setting out into the open and that frigid wind, anxiety -that it would be painful to be pelted by those blasts of driven snow. I admit it would have been a quick and easy ‘yes’ had my friend extended the invitation to stay indoors for the afternoon. Instead, she’d said, “Shall we go out?” and I chose to trust her.

But then I’d have never known the exhilaration of standing in the center of that windswept frozen lake, gazing down its length toward the remembered enchantment of the summer bogs I’d paddled last summer, now buried in the ice and snow. I’d not have realized how the patterns that the wind draws in the snow are the same ones she draws in the hot sands of the desert. I’d not have known the beauty of the glowing sun creating an aurora in the midst of all that gray, nor appreciated the resilience and the strength of my own body.

Back on the mainland, we made our way up the ridge behind the cabins, through balsam, birch and hardwoods, to the rise overlooking the lake, which appeared to be a swath of white draped like a sheet over the contours of the land.  Where the melting snow had seeped over the edge of those granite ledges, great cascades of frozen icicles offered us a sip of mineral-laced goodness. We snapped ourselves a piece to partake in an unnamed and unspoken, spontaneous ritual of natural communion with each other and with the earth. Each of us taking in the preciousness of simple life-giving gifts. Water and Ice.

In the dwindling light of the day, we completed the daily chores, loading the wheelbarrow with the heavy logs from the wood shed and hauling them to the rack by the front door and into the furnace in the basement.  We dragged the garbage out by sled to the dumpster along the main road, pushed the hand plow to clear a path for my car in the morning. It was heavy work, and by now my body felt good and tired (emphasis on the good).  I found myself reveling in the physical understanding that life is sometimes supposed to be hard and heavy.  

My friend had told me the stories of two separate women who had moved to the lake when they were in their 50’s or 60’s, into cabins without running water and electricity, had lived there year round until the last year or so. Now in their mid 70’s, they no longer haul what they need across the lake in their toboggans, no longer melt bucketfuls of snow for the water they need, feed their stoves with piles of logs for warmth throughout the long winter. My friend said one of the women had told her that the first 2 years of living there, she was weary all the time. I wondered about the discoveries she made about herself.

Later that evening over dinner, my friend and I picked up the thread of a conversation we had been weaving during our time together. We’d been wondering a lot about the ways that our seeming ability (or desire) to choose for or against almost anything in our modern world is affecting our humanity.  We want to believe we should be able to control what we allow into our lives – whether or not to get married, whether or not to have children,  whether or not we should be allowed to live in a certain place or a certain way, whether or not to (you fill in the blank)… whether or not even to live or to die. We were pondering how confusing (or paralyzing) all that choice must be on one hand, how diminishing of life it is on the other.  We thought that perhaps it might have been better when things were simply given, when Life happened to us, when More was beyond our ability to either choose or to control, or when Life sometimes simply said, “No”.  For life to be fabulously wild and alive with unknown potentials.

I thought about some of my own wild places, when life happened to me in ways that I could not stop, in ways I might not have entered into voluntarily had I had the choice…. a pregnancy at 16 that thrust my life into unchartered and unexpected terrain, the breakup of the ice that was a twenty year marriage and the flooding devastation that entailed….the coming face-to-face with a predator….

When the landscape of our life is suddenly buried in feet of snow and the winds are gusting harshly, we have few choices. We could perhaps hibernate, if we have the means to survive long stretches without bringing in fresh nourishment, or we could gather ourselves and head out across the frozen land in search of food. If we choose the second, we just might be surprised at how resilient and strong and capable we are, at how beautiful is the world just outside the door behind which we have kept ourselves closed off, at the remarkable ways we can learn to keep ourselves warm even when the world seems frigid, and at how the very thing we were most afraid that we would find painful or impossible is instead frightfully enlivening and astonishingly beautiful.

When the wildness of life is allowed to have its transformative ways with us, when we have no choice but to surrender to it, we grow in previously inconceivable ways. What we can imagine from a place of inexperience cannot even begin to comprehend how that unknown experience will change us, how we will learn -to love, to survive, to thrive, how we will be broken open, how we will become stronger and softer, wiser and paradoxically, freer. Humans really do need life be bigger than our small selves. We need the elements to loom large and wild, we need moments when we are brought to our knees before Life, when we have no choice but to submit to the mystery of the unknown, to trust in Her when she says, ‘Shall we go out?”


  • rereading these entries this evening, I am struck by the times I used the word  ‘belly’… filling our bellies with warm oatmeal, with lunch, the belly of the furnace with wood… for these were the days of Imbolc, unacknowledged by me consciously at the time, which is sometimes translated as ‘stirring in the belly’, a time of noticing what is awakening … seeds in the earth, snakes and groundhogs from their winter’s sleep, lambs in the bellies of the ewes… how wonderful is that?



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Erin Morlock
    Feb 05, 2017 @ 18:17:09

    that was lovely



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: