A Winter Hike
by Karen Wells

We tucked in a brisk hike this morning, sneaking it into our schedules before resuming our appointments for the day.  If we were going to go, it had to be now.  The rain was coming.  Again. 

We fully knew that the ground was already saturated from last week's Noah's ark kind of downpour, but the miry bogs were still passable, and hey, some things in life are messy.   A winter's hike is gonna be cold, and your shoes are gonna to get really muddy. But a little adventure is good for the soul, even in deep winter with frosty grey skies.

Winter is not the off-season, like dead time between exhibits at a museum.  These months produce an ever-rotating exhibit of masterpieces, carefully curated views, the enormity of gravity-defying trees, the deep initials of winter carved into the bark, the plaintive cry of a barred owl ("who, who, who cooks for you?"), and always that which is surprising and staggering even on well-traveled paths, hiding in plain sight of the familiar.

The invisible becomes visible, not by any command of my own imagination, but in what I never noticed before in this sanctuary of the unexpected. Voices of the forest surround me in a liturgical call and response between the birds and squirrels and the righteousness of trees.  

I never come home unchanged by the wonders of the woods. There is a glory there. The light filtering through the shadows of trees decorate my dreams at night.  My shoes crusty with mud at the garage door are not the only tangible evidence of being there.

It was sloppy this morning, as expected, but the trail was still there, a series of footprints, paving the way through the impossible for another hiker, who wanders, who seeks, who suffers.  We gather strength by what we see, by what we breathe, on a  pilgrimage through this cemetery of winter trees which groan with ancient arthritic pains, grip the soaked ground, hold on for dear life through fierce winter winds, but still stretch upward for what is next.  They know the brilliance that is coming.

Our little hike in the woods consumed barely an hour out of my day, but when we returned home, it was as if our clocks were turned back and the day had started all over again. There is no longer anything ordinary, a small day not despised but for what eternity has broken forth over it. 

We shall not cease from exploration,
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.

                           T. S. Eliot

                            from his Four Quartets