In Illinois last week, the warm weather shattered records. Unused to having 60- and 70-degree temperatures in February, Chicagoans flocked to the beach, filled the parking lots at the Botanic Gardens, pulled dusty bikes out of the garage and shed their full-length down parkas and boots for light jackets. I happily took part in this false spring spree, but something didn’t quite feel right.
So when I drove up to the cabin this week and encountered light snow when I hit St. Vrain Canyon, it felt like the world was back to normal. This was what a winter day should be like. But ice built up on the windshield wipers, and I had a hard time seeing through the slush on the windshield. When I tried to pull over to clean the wipers, I could never be sure what I was driving into: was the snow deeper than it looked? Was there a ditch I couldn’t see? Or rocks?
All day the snow fell, big thick flakes, and in the afternoon I went for a walk. Maybe a half a foot of light snow had fallen, easy to walk through, but once in a while I would hit a patch of ice that I couldn’t see, and my feet would start to slide out from under me. On a side road that hadn’t been plowed recently, I walked through new snow on top of old snow that had melted and hardened in ways I couldn’t see. Every step I could never be sure what I would find: something soft that I would sink into? Hard crusted snow that would throw me off my gait? At least once I went down.
But that’s how I feel these days: as if I can’t trust the ground I walk on. There’s been too much upheaval: my dad’s death, the climate becoming more unpredictable, and daily pronouncements from Washington that shake my faith in humanity and its goodness. Buddhists say that there is no such thing as stable ground; it’s an illusion. Everything is impermanent, fleeting. And yet, still I look for something to rely on.
At the cabin, I stand facing Mt. Meeker, feeling its strength and solidity. All day, sitting at the table working, my eyes keep going to the tall and upright ponderosa pine that anchors the cabin’s front porch, which has managed to withstand the strong winds that shake it all winter. On my walk, I pause to listen to the creek, which keeps running all year—in droughts or under a foot of ice. When I walk through the snow, I think of the earth under my feet, buried under snow now, but still holding me up, holding us all.
Fleeting illusions, maybe, but enough for now.