Driving from north to south or south to north has the unique characteristic of allowing you to move through time as well as space. In my case, I went from over a foot of snow in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the burnished red and gold of oaks and maples in southern Minnesota. It was like traveling from deep November to early, tawny October.
One of the unique aspects of that experience is the change in vigilance that takes place in you. Rich autumn days fill you with their presence; grey, leaden skies fill you with awareness of something impending. At least a certain part of your consciousness takes on an awareness of potential, and your mind and heart are cast to unseen distances.
I love them both. They produce different types of mindfulness. But driving through heavy snows on a trackless road through deep forests has a unique capacity to focus your attention while still drawing your mind to places unknown and unseen. It is an experience I forget, at least viscerally, until I experience it anew each winter.
It reminds me of why I live in this northern land, and why I often long to get away. There is something authentic in the immediacy of winter, but something oppressive in its enclosure. You live close to your skin, aware of the significance of each moment, but find yourself looking at the skies for avenues of escape.
No one who has not experienced winter can know the power and majesty of a hawk circling above a sea of whiteness in azure blue skies. Without winter you cannot know the holy purity of a landscape covered in a fresh mantle of snow.
But when these leaden skies descend and hold you in and down for day after day, it is as if some great god has pressed his thumb upon your chest. You long for distance, light, and breath.
All of that is coming to me now. I have seen it, if only for a moment. And I have basked in the fiery brilliance of hillsides as rich and variegated as a Persian carpet in their autumn splendor; that is leaving me now. I am suspended in time, watching all of nature retreat to a defensive mode, preparing for what is to come while giving up the memory of the summer past. It is a delicious, bittersweet time.
There will be more writing now. More reflection. More inner work. The mind will change its focus and the heart will move to a minor key. Movements will get harder; moments will take on more significance.
But with this, the yearning for freedom will increase.
The hawk in the sky will cease to be just one small element in nature’s rich symphony. In his lonely and singular presence, he will become a metaphor for freedom and a harbinger of hope.