Story: A Winter Walk
by Kelly Havens Stickle (@kellyhavensohio)
On a cold frosty Friday I left my little ones with their grandpa and went for a solitary walk, much like Jane Eyre often took to the fields surrounding old Thornfield manor. My soul felt refreshed and unbound, as if it were a ball of the softest wool, beginning to unwind and float away in the quiet February wind.
The only sounds I could hear were the occasional tap tap of a woodpecker and the crunch of the unbroken snow as my leather shoes penetrated the many layers, and many days worth of ice storms and gentle flurries. My rosemary linen dress floated across the top of the snow, catching occasional snowflakes in its tender folds. In my field, among the astounding beauty outside, a few things happened inside, and I decided to write them down for you.
The first thing that happened was I began to feel very small. The Sycamore trees with their gigantic almost dinosauric limbs splayed into the sky above me and shadowed my small body as if it were inside their friendly grip. It made me think of the words of the Psalmist where he says, “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! (Ps. 39:45).
But it was not a sad thing to feel small, it was a great comfort. I found myself resting easy in a Life much greater than I. The life of the all knowing, good God who made me, and whose tender care and shadow I could abide in much like the shadow of the limbs of a old tree. It is a comfort to feel small when you are beloved of something very great. I felt how indoor life, with its busyness and activity, compared to the shocking stillness and ease of undisturbed wood and field had made life much heavier and more complicated than it needed to be. I became, with each adventuring step, simple again.
The second thing that happened was I became aware of the earth almost as a person. The objects I saw were not just things, they were friends. They all shared a secret I felt they would gladly let me in on, if only I’d take the time to grow familiar with them. They were the kind of friend that expected loyalty, and I felt that was fair. I felt a pang of guilt that such sweet lovely things had beckoned friendship with me for many years, and I had often neglected to even afford them much of a glance, let alone learn their names. I had felt there wasn’t time for them, but in fact, it was the busy world that was unworthy of my attention, not these humble things of nature, pouring forth an otherworldly beauty. I was reminded by a beloved verse of one of my favorite English writers, Charlotte Mason. “We owe debts to things as well as to persons—the debts of recognition, appreciation and preservation.” (Charlotte Mason, Ourselves). How eager I was to pay my debt to these dear friends!
I walked on, past winter stalks with dried seed pods and shriveled crinkly leaves, sometimes curled up and floating gracefully in the billows like locks of golden hair. The dried seed pods were still attached to their stems, much like a mother hangs on to the memory of her children long past the years of their summery youth. This all had a powerful effect on me when I truly fixed my eye upon what I saw instead of passing by. The objects in nature were fragile, exquisite, and raw. I felt drawn to be the same myself, and to seek a higher, both more tender and more resilient life of feminine virtue.
Down the path and into the woods, ran the Kokosing river, where I had waded in my early 20s. I had been heedless of the roots that bravely grabbed the eroding soil, creating little cavern like nooks where I engaged in a shady summer retreat. Then I had been on the outside of nature. Now I found myself just barely on the inside, not trampling everything down and carelessly wandering, but admitting each object of nature my eye could see into my own heart and admiring it as if it were a jewel or an unpredictable miracle. I admired it as something perfected, whereas I was not. This, too, had a humbling and freeing effect on me, and I resolved to study midwestern field guides with my little boys and make better acquaintance with the bark and stalks and pods that I had come to love so much.
The third thing that happened was that I became thankful. I found myself inexpressibly thankful for the trees and their nuts, and the bushes and their fruit, the fields and their flowers. I knew that soon tiny buds would appear and blossoms burst. Our old home would have tiny arrangements of wildflowers tucked in every corner, brightening our indoor hours. The simple rustic charm they would add to our home could not be undervalued. I pictured the chubby fingers of my youngest fondling the silky petals of wild violets, and my heart exalted at the image.
I beheld the strong oak and the tall pine, and felt gratitude for the wood they gave to my husband for him to make the toys and the furniture that we cherished most in our home. I realized where everything dear to me had come from, and fell into a state of worship. Not to the objects themselves, but the way their loving Maker had seen it fit to so bless our lives with nature’s variety, richness, and precious gifts. Oh, how could it be! It was all free, and freely given to me. My soul bowed low, in humble worship.
The last thing that happened occurred as I descended down the steep river bank toward the Kokosing river. This scene captivated me more than any other because it was like a living painting. The surface of the frozen water looked rippled, as if frozen mid-flow. The pools of unfrozen water were a dark emerald green, flowing freely around the ice. The sun turned the snow into sparkling white waves. As I watched the moving water against the ice I thought of the seasons and how gladly they come and go. I became resolved to live in alliance with the seasonal flow; to embrace the frozen times and the free-flowing times. To welcome the sowing and the reaping. The quiet river begged me to believe the frosty seasons of my life were no less magnificent in shade or stroke as the flowering summer ones in this living painting of life.
A great many other things happened, some too personal to tell, and some too fine and feathery to be captured and pinned down with words. But the powerful effect of these walks on my heart, away from the pressures of the world, will reveal their mysteries in time, I am sure. The important matter is to keep letting nature, and her beauty, undo and rearrange what I, in my broken nature, had marred over time. To let her beauty spark reform, in that gentle and mighty way that only she can. Will you join me?
As I gathered my things and made my way home, I became grateful that life was both very short and very long. Long enough to apply myself diligently to the study of the wonders of nature, but short enough that the sufferings of my present life would soon be replaced with the peace of righteousness, and I would enter into the heavenly rest the field hinted at, and the glory that is promised to those who love Him whom they have not seen, and who made and sustains the beauty that took my breath away on that frosty day.
Thank you to lovely Kelly (@kellyhavensohio) for sharing this wonderful story with us!
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