Last week, I accompanied a friend carrying the ashes of her friend to Lake Isabelle. In May, this young, vibrant woman had been hit head on by another car and died instantly. It was another reminder of how none of us know if this will be our last day or moment.
At this time of the year, I want to hang on to every day, not let one day slip through my fingers. Having spent an entire winter and summer at my cabin, it’s startling how different the two seasons are, as if the cabin was two different places. It’s like night and day. If night is the absence of light, winter is the absence of summer’s riches: the golden light that bathes everything in some heavenly glow, the heady smell of the pine trees, the abundance of animal life (birds flying, while rabbits, chipmunks and ground squirrels scamper through the yard), and the wind softly stirring the aspen leaves and the tall grasses.
In summer, I want to drown myself in the sensual world. Even things like the squeaking of the screen door and the creak of the water pump contribute to what is almost a sensory overload. It’s enough to just sit on the front deck with friends and family, with meandering conversations that have no clear beginning or ending. Hours can go by with nothing significant happening except for the two hummingbirds getting in a fight at the feeder.
In winter at the cabin, with no insulation, I’m aware of the thin shell between me and the cold and wind. There’s a slight edge to everything, as if I have to keep the cold at bay, constantly stoking the fire. It’s not that life is terribly hard up here but that it seems barren, empty. In winter, the only wildlife I see are the blue jays and the chickarees, and the earth is mostly brown except when we get a good snowfall. The rest of the time, the strong winds blow any snow away.
Winter has its own beauty, of course—the ice on the creek, the tracks through the snow, the white bark of the aspen trees. But there’s a clear division between myself and the natural world in winter. That’s why it feels so good in summer to shed that armor, to lose myself to the world around me.
In the Buddhist philosophy I study, the aim is to live every moment, aware that it’s temporal, that my life could end tomorrow. So there’s the challenge: balancing the awareness that everything dies, and the ensuing feelings of sadness about that loss, with the utter appreciation and gratitude of each moment, especially now, especially in summer with all its riches.