This cold winter has been harsh in our house. Love went south and left us alone with each other, just as my business froze to a halt. Now the weather is finally breaking, the river is thawing and I am out on my bike again. Pedaling away from the confusion and bitterness that have piled up like snow drifts at home, I feel free and open. I am headed upstream and every side stream is full to the brim, carrying the winter away.
I come to the bridge and stop. The river has risen up and rolled out across the forest floor, like a magic mirrored carpet. Up and down blend seamlessly. Trees meet themselves at the waterline, reaching up and down together. Everything else slips away as I am pulled out of myself and into the watered woods. I wonder about the squirrels. Do they get vertigo when they come out of their tree houses and look down into the sky?
The weak winter afternoon sun slants across the scene, adding shadows to the tapestry, a pale gray woven across the muted colors of winter reflected into spring. Fallen and crossed trees sing their song twice, adding circles, triangles and trapezoids to the design.
And I am lost; talking to this magic, praising it out loud, amazed that I am the only one here to witness this enchantment. Behind me, cars whiz by at close quarters, blinders on. It’s 5 PM on a weekday, and they are out of the gate, racing away from work, hurrying to somewhere else. I have been nowhere today but here, and I am in no rush to go home.
A smoking sports car guns by and I turn to see the pale, overweight driver, three feet and a world away. I feel frustration in his acceleration, one of the few forms of freedom left to men. I look back at the woods. A century ago he could have been sliding silently though this water, in a canoe made with his own hands, hunting fish with honor and cunning, using his body and his mind in beautiful and simple ways. The car comes by again. Did he forget something? Is he pretending to race? Or is he checking out this same view, on a road to narrow to park anything bigger than a bicycle? I breathe the fumes of his frustration one more time, then he is gone, and I am back in the woods and water.
I am comforted by this huge change that happening to the river I love. My life is changing just as dramatically, rising up out of the banks, changing shape completely and moving into new places. I cannot explain it to other people. It looks like instability, but it is thaw, just like the river.
This has been happening for a million years, right here, in this place, before the road, before the bridge, before me, and before all these people who are in too much of a hurry to stop and see this incredible change. Winter moves towards spring with small steps. It only happens overnight if you are busy. Before the flowers, before the fruit, there is this wild changing time, with brisk winds to sweep away the stillness, and this huge water lying heavy, like a placenta over the land.
Slowly, slowly, slowly the water will slip away, taking my sadness with it. It will slide down into the mystery of aquifers and underground ground streams, and it will rise again, pure, ready to nurture new life. But today it is right here with me, showing me the gifts of the weight and the wait. The reflections in the water tell me that the reflections in my mind have been time well spent, seeing not only what is on the surface, but also looking down deep, craning down as if looking up into the night sky.
Suddenly I see in this water that one of the gifts of this hard winter is to be here now, watching the thaw, witnessing the change, having nowhere else to go. My life has been in winter, and I do not expect fruit soon. So I am here, alone, watching the incredible power and beauty of this thaw.
And you, perhaps were driving by, in a hurry at 5 PM to get home to the fruits you have grown. Maybe you work in the post office that carries my mail, or at the store where I buy food. This is my gift to you, standing here worshipping in this cathedral of reflections, of woods and water, eyes wide open, gathering light like wool, to weave this story. So that when your life slips into thaw, changes shape, slips out of the banks, you can smile and remember the river. Halfway between winter and spring, it is wild, and so are we.