December 15, 2013

North Cairn: Truth dawns that less is more

An early morning wintry day is indeed priceless.

It is a task greater than words can contain to sing the praises of waking in the North Woods of Maine in a cabin with windows enough to seem like sky.

Every day, no matter the season, the first sight to greet me – now, other than the sweet face of a snoozing golden retriever puppy so close I can feel her breath on my cheek – is a landscape of trees: oaks, hemlocks, pines and a score of shrubs deemed by the tillers to be weeds.

This is the way serenity offers itself to me as a prelude to the peopled day, and I wish I could praise creation by confessing I always embrace it, but I am not a bird or butterfly; I am only human, after all. Yet during these early days of almost winter – when snow is not yet a wearying element of the season, but its announcement – the forest is frozen in awe for me.

Everything is so still when the wind subsides. My puttering little life makes noise enough for all the world out there, where mice move through tunnels under leaves covered with snow and deer tiptoe through the dawn and dusk as if survival were a great secret only they could unlock along their lightly trodden paths.

I make coffee, prepare breakfast for myself and the dog while she roams the property, snooping for any new developments since the night before. I do laundry, run the dishwasher and in a weak moment, flip on the radio for news or slip a CD thin as ice into its player so that Telemann or Nakai can be transported to my few modest rooms.

Nature needs no such accoutrements. These mornings even the sparrows and titmice seem to have abandoned us to the silence that settles the heart, and wears down cynicism and dread with the tide of the day – silence flowing in, joy out or its reverse, an earthly meditation repeated again and again as the morning toils on.

Here, simple images carry me today: Icy flakes by the millions frozen to the clothesline, trees draped in the faux fleece of snow clumps; the trees with a shock blast of last night’s storm blown against their trunks; cups of milkweed overflowing with their dollop of the downfall; weeds in every direction wearing caps of white against the cold.

All of this I could see any wintry day from my own mound of coverlets and quilts, before I ever leave the bed. Inside is out, and outside in.

To limit the constant blizzard of blond hair from the dog, I have thrown over my own blankets a light blue flannel duvet covered with a snowflake pattern so that if I wake just as the light is ascending, I can imagine for a moment that I am in a small lair with a fox asleep beside me.

These dreams, imaginings, realities, cost me not a penny to possess – a fact that fills me with humble pleasure especially at this time of year, when it seems the world goes madder than mad for a while, consuming trinkets and trappings of a life that is exhausting the planet and misspending whatever breathing room families still can recover from the unrelenting squall of financial stress.

I do not erect a Christmas tree anymore; why would I, with a thicket of evergreens rising all around? I seldom listen to secular carols; why bother, with the sacred stillness chiming in the frozen air?

I give gifts, but in recent years, I have been trying to limit myself to what a friend calls “shopping in the attic,” by which she means sifting through all the possessions she already has and no longer uses: figurines or wood carvings long forgotten, baskets or painted plates and bowls that can be filled with cookies or candy – or pine cones and berries.

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