The cold, quiet winter forest has much to teach.

Winter is a good time to remain still and watch. The world is naked, dazzling in the winter light. It is easy to focus. Single flowers break through the frost. Buttercups, trout lily, dandelion, and Skunk Cabbage leaves in the wet bottomlands. You can count the buds on bare dogwood branches and still-leafed holly.

There is less of you here, more of the world around you. You learn by being quiet. Leaves fall one by one, each with a clatter as it lands, all winter long. Orange dust appears, grows and extends to reveal fungi, and returns to dust again. The wind tastes of rain long before the clouds appear.

All of this is to say, it is not you and the world, it is the world with you.

It is the world within you. There is no world without you. Existence is a relationship. It put you in it to learn. You put what you learn in it. It puts more in you. Give and give. No taking. You’re not here for long, there’s no time to take. Barely time to give what you can. Better still: remain motionless, watch, wait, listen, observe.

Down below the falls I watched a great heron feed. It moved slowly, sometimes not at all for longer than I can endure sitting still. And then when it need to, it snapped so fast I could not see it move, only the head coming up with a fish.

This is the way to learn I think. Moments of sudden insight are rare. Rather there are a whole lot of moments that come together so gradually you don’t notice them. Even in hindsight they seem painfully slow in arriving. But then, at some point, you holding that fish in your beak and you know.

Watching the kids learn is like this. There is no day I could point to and say, this is when they learned to read, this is when they learned to write. There are simply days that pass, and more days, and more days, and then — fish.

When we decided to spend autumn and winter here it felt like another defeat to me, like spending summer in Texas, like we had once again failed life’s geographic climate test. We’re supposed to chase the weather, be in the sunny deserts of the west, or down at the beaches of Mexico.

Now though I am glad we were here. There is much to learn in not getting what you want.

There is much to learn from discomfort — like how fast you adapt to cold for instance — much to learn from the leaves falling, much to learn from herons fishing in the cold waters, much to learn from the forest when it falls silent for the winter.


Please leave a reply:

All comments are moderated, so you won’t see it right away. And please remember Kurt Vonnegut's rule: “god damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” You can use Markdown or HTML to format your comments. The allowed tags are <b>, <i>, <em>, <strong>, <a>. To create a new paragraph hit return twice.