It is Christmas Day, and here I am living in a former Catholic Priory with a small community of folks who identify themselves as “Christian Mystics,” and though I’m not a Christian, I suppose I am a ‘mystic’ which means that willy-nilly, I feel at home here.
In any case, as a household we are smart and kindly folks who laugh a lot, share the cooking and the cleaning and do what we can for one another in this dizzying time of shifts and changes in the world.
Our group ‘home’ is surrounded by four acres of lawn and woods on a small dead-end road just at the bottom of Putney Village. The Connecticut river is a five-minute walk away, as are the town Library and Co-op grocery store. Our rooms used to be where the priests lived, and the kitchen is well-appointed and generous.
I love this town and have loved it for decades as my brother lived here, farming in the summers and studying Ancient Egyptian astronomy in the winters. From the beginning, I envied the rhythms of his life here—a season of hard physical labor followed by a season of deep introspection.
Now he is gone, and my husband is gone, and I have come here to live out a long-held wish to be close to this land and under these skies, surrounded by woods and pastures and a small community of enlightened people.
This morning dawned clear and cold and I was greeted with an early-morning light show made by the rising sun behind the trees outside my window. The rays first hit the high up branches against the growing light, mauve to pink to hints of gold changing even as I blinked.
It was well below 10 degrees F when the sun appeared over the trees, icy and silent as dawn spread its way down the high branches at the horizon in all directions from my window. Moment by moment the new sun spread shifting hues of mauve down grey-brown trunks, making orange lace of the branches that became blushing bronze, then deep gold, then yellow and brighter yellow shining down and down towards the snowy ground. Brown tree trunks became wands of light as the sun rose above their crowns and took over the sky—and it was day!
I dared not blink or miss a split second of this light show as color spread through my new world of winter woods like a gift from the skies, so I watched the transformation from darkness to light take place by staring out the window, as the subtle spectrum of colors crept down the trees and the sun slid upwards into the morning sky.
It is true winter here now, and black ice lurks beneath the fluffy new snow, creating treacherous patches to slip on with every step. Benedict, a housemate friend, and I drove down to the river to see the freeze on the water, the river banks solid white and a flotilla of ice islands coming downstream that had, as Benedict explained, cracked off from the ice-banks in chunks to now make their way downstream in a procession of small white islands. The whole river had been transformed by a drop in temperature to these ice-cakes floating together upon black water.
A day later the temperature had risen some and a thaw began dimpling the ice floes. I went down to the river in mid-afternoon to take a look, and the floes had melted into spreading ‘ice marshes’ that met midstream with tinkling crashes, like piles of ice cubes meeting up in the middle of a punchbowl. From one day to the next as the conditions had changed— although not so much, really—the whole scene looked and felt very different.
Like the world, I think. Reality shifts. Every change, however small or large, creates a new scene for our play, and I figure that if it happens on a river just by a small shift in temperature, then I probably can make personal changes too by a shift in perspective. Whyever not?
After being at the river, we wanted to see more, so we drove out to a waterfall in woods on the other side of the valley to see what the ice-lock had wrought there. Wrapped up to a fare-thee-well in woolen layers, we crunched our way carefully to the water’s edge, silenced by the roar of water thundering down ledges and over ice-covered boulders in the stream.
Oh, it was grand!
In one little side-stream of the larger flow, a design of three circles whirled together, bumping sides within their larger ring as a mini chink in the ice alongside channeled whitewater up into the air, and then down again to join the flow. Such magic!
One day later when we came back the ice circles were gone and a thick ledge of ice had given way nearby, sending masses of water plunging over the new dropping-off place! By today it will of course be different, and tomorrow, changed again. Hour by hour as the sun moves and warms the world at different angles, the frozen stream will respond—and so will we.
Change happens. There it was, the whole magic metaphor of our changeable world happening before my eyes, ice crystals melting into water and invisibly forming back into crystals of ice as the sun moved above us. Thunderous beauty was transformed moment by moment from one glorious tableau to the next as clouds moved across the sky, while the Earth spun on its axis and the Sun rose higher into clouds and sky.
Cold hands jammed in pockets and eyes tearing in the cold, we watched the world sculpt itself anew into mobile artworks at Stickney Brook, along a small dirt road on the other side of the valley.
That’s our world for you, always in motion now and forever, even when it appears static to us in this moment and then this moment… Big changes are upon us, for sure, and we watch helplessly the social mayhem, the political hysteria, the family upheavals and beneath the big changes are the subtler changes happening within our hearts and bodies and minds. We wake deep down to our fears and our loves, taking kinder note of what we feel deep in our hearts, and our souls, knowing more clearly what we do not love and what we dare not trust. Paying deep attention, we know our souls more intimately than before.
The Waking Up, I call it.
Anyhow, every single day every one of us gets 24 hours older, with certain death coming at the end of our lives, meaning that it is now or never, my friends—with no exceptions.
For me, scary though it all is, I am glad to be here for this world freeze-up and thaw that has actually been in motion my whole lifetime—and your own, of course—and now has reached a new level of drama that promises to be exciting, at the very least. I believe it may be what every one of us has come in for now, whether we know it or not.
So grab your hanky and blow your runny nose, pull your wooly scarf tighter around your neck and jam your mittened hands into your pockets… and do not take your eyes off the waterfalls in the stream, for in the flows are ice sculptures and evanescent rainbows that appear and disappear right there in the roar of water right before your eyes. Our eyes. On the Earth; in our world; in our bodies; in our species…
It is time. And here in Vermont it certainly is cold enough!
Or hot enough, whichever metaphor works best for you…