In the world of growing things, a vast space in which all is constantly moving, changing, stirring and evolving, winter is an exercise in stillness. A walk through the woods or along a snowy path is a walk through a great art gallery, for everywhere, examples of still life abound. A beech leaf embedded in snow … a single cluster of pine needles resting on an icy surface … bits of moss frozen in time … a stone like a large wedge of cake frosted in white royal icing … all placed randomly rather than deliberately for effect or meaning.

Although things beneath the surface of the soil or under the pond’s lid of ice have never stopped happening, above, all has been static for some months now, and I am proffered yet another opportunity to take notice and to renew my appreciation for those small forces that escape me at milder times of year.

While that dried and yellowed beech leaf has lived out its own life, it’s not done yet. For once its snowy sepulcher melts, depositing it once again gently onto the forest floor, there it will be repurposed as nourishment for others of its kind. The same holds true for the pine cluster, while the moss will, with the first touch of a warming rain, regain its composure and turgidity, and will be none the worse for the extremes of cold to which it was only recently subjected. As for the rock, which has most likely been there for quite some time, its frosting will melt and the surrounding greenery will once again encroach upon it, pulling it into their composition as a contrasting element that speaks volumes about tenacity and permanence.

As fine art speaks to me, so do the woods all the year round, but they are best and most clearly heard in winter when my senses are acutely tuned by mere virtue of their being awakened by the cold. The fresh, crisp, clean air clears my vision and my sense of smell, heightens my tactile ability and brings normally muffled sounds to the forefront. Then I am able to hear the slightest rustle of dry leaves or the faintest sloughing of snow falling from a branch. And as if I were in a great and quiet cathedral, I am able to focus more directly on all that is being communicated around me. Rather than spotlights aimed on a particular work, the sun, as it emerges from behind a cloud, illuminates it all, knowing in its infallible way that it all deserves equal consideration, with no one thing more beautiful than another.

On windless days, there is no more quiet time in the woods than in mid-winter, for nothing stirs at all. Whatever might have rippled or danced or shimmied on a breezy summer day is at rest or hidden under a cover of snow. Even the light as it inches slowly across the mounds and humps produced by the hidden tree stumps and windfalls seems to be moving more slowly and silently, having fewer surfaces to illuminate, less work to do.

If I want to be totally alone with my thoughts, away from the hum of a refrigerator or the roar of a heater coming on, I take to the woods where the silence is virtually complete and unassailable. The deeper in I go, the more often I stop to listen to that silence, to more fully absorb its inexplicably deafening quality, and to more totally grasp its awesome significance.

Anyone who doubts that there are greater powers at work in this universe beyond our own has never walked in the woods in winter where our entire beings are challenged to move beyond what we can see, hear, feel and what we only think we know.

— Rachel Lovejoy, a freelance writer living in Lyman, who enjoys exploring the woods of southern Maine, can be reached via email at [email protected]