I am reading the signature of the earth in the snow.
After four weekends of storms, which left me feeling trapped in the house, the few warm days that broke the monotony also re-established that there was, in fact, a world under all that white. First, the trees shrugged off their burdens like heavy overcoats, then the massive slabs of snow on the roof cascaded down to the first-floor level and left all the windows in a blackout on one side of the cabin.
I was concerned, but only mildly, because 42 straight hours of snowfall had left me in a kind of apocalyptic dread in which an avalanche seemed the expected disaster waiting just around the bend. If I had wanted to endure this, I thought sullenly, I could have returned to my roots and gone back to Michigan.
Out in the Midwest, where I still have family and friends religious enough to deal with the dead of winter like a wandering in the wilderness, a bad streak of weather is simply part of an exodus which has only one destination: spring.
But the world has been turned on its head, climate-wise, and when I spoke by phone to an old friend over the weekend, I learned that along the shores of Lake Michigan in the southwestern part of the state, the croci and snowdrops are poking through the snow, moving right along on their own internal clocks, regardless of the wild winter that seemingly will not end.
I remember how important those first risings are: The dawn like muslin over the landscape, letting the first glow of the day lift itself from the horizon; the luminous green of the first spears of spring blossoms, almost anemic in their hunger for sun; the velvety pussy willows putting out their silvery light, visible a quarter of a mile away, along the culvert beds.
I have walked a thousand times or more around cranberry bogs and through forests and dunes, paced along the Atlantic shore and the beach that stretches for miles beyond Macatawa in mid-Michigan, and I have never been exhausted of my love of the silence full of nature’s noise.
But out here in the Maine woods, the stillness and quiet are deeper and dense, thick with the aroma of bark and humus, rotting pine needles and the perfume of fresh air. During the last couple of weeks I have heard a bird or two in early morning here, but only 150 miles to the south, the songbirds are hard at it, pulling the vast veil of spring overhead, drawing nearer, just like us, to the edge of the sea.
It is not quite the appointed hour for the full surge of migrations in the north, though I can almost feel them, flocks and individual birds, swimming in the air, obeying the currents of blood and light, wind and indelible memory, making their way back toward Maine.
But for now, while I await their return and their constant company, I settle for solitary pursuits outside, monitoring the backyard canvas for strokes of paws or hocks, dragging tails or broken browse to remind me of my familiars, moving just beyond the rim of sight.
Last week, the yard itself seemed to be writing or sketching as the snow melted, creating rivulets and mounds, dip lines and curves around rocks — nature’s plane geometry on the parabola of the earth. I am beginning to calculate all the angles and concaves of the little stretch of open land that surrenders at last to the wild wood.
Mathematicians say that numbers speak to them, and philosophers commune with the subtle tones of splendid ideas. I hear the complaint of straining trees, the electric spark of lake ice splitting. I pray to the sea and worship the wind.
Even though the snow still falls and everything rote seems relieved, I know it is all still out there: the life one layer below, in the sleep of hibernation and torpor, in the unconscious mind, and even here, in the heart that holds all seasons, their warmth and bitter cold, dear and brimming with delight. I can wait through whatever blizzards come, of weather or worry. I slept late today, though no time passed as all the clocks pretended a change. When I woke, I was full-throttle alive. I could smell spring in the air.
North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: