Last week, as the third snow day in a row dawned, I began to find myself deep in a malaise. Here in Western Washington, I’ve grown accustomed to the sharp contrast of evergreens and slate skies; even on the bleakest days, spruce and red cedar encircle us, setting off white-capped mountains on the horizon, the steel grey of the Sound. But day-after-snowy-day, the pallette was limited – white ground, white trees, white sky.
Somewhere during the week, I found my mind growing hazy. Words seemed laborious and slow. I found myself opting for the ease of news articles, weather coverage and Instagram photos, all available with the swipe of my finger.
The torpor increased until I finally unearthed myself from the warm, comfortable couch, tugged on my boots, and opened the front door. Outside I found my neighbors busy tromping about with sleds. One had built an igloo, another a ski slope. A long walk, slow going and inefficient over unploughed roads, pulled me out of my languor and into participation with the world again. There was so much beauty at hand and underfoot. A pile of snow sloughing off a pine, two small boys attempting to shovel ice from the road. Even the small imprints of the dog’s paws were enchanting.
It’s moments like these that I remember a simple walk can be a choice for good. It’s become harder and harder to keep an internal sanctuary, to hold a space that isn’t crowded out by the relentless, ubiquity of blaring cultural input. The continual cacophonous assault of modern life conjures a sort of spiritual haze similar to the mental one in which I found myself after three days of snow.
“Wilderness isn’t a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit,” writes essayist Edward Abbey. While Abbey may have been referring to those untrammeled wild places on the far corners of the map, there’s a wilderness within each of us that is threatened to be paved over by the blacktop of wall-to-wall cultural inputs. Like a wilderness of dark woods and winding rivers, our internal wilderness is in equal need of active conservation.
This is hard, morally profound work. I find that I act as an active conservator of this wilderness when I engage in the simplest things: a snowy walk, a good book, a meal with my family, a moment of gentle silence with a friend. The humble reality of these things counters the louder, slicker, flashier options that otherwise inundate my life.
Now the snow is melting, the rain is back, and the sidewalks are ugly with slush. It’s easy to dash from the car into warm buildings, and mostly I’ve been doing just that. Yet as we returned home today from a wasteland of shops and lines, we leashed the dog and wandered out into a cold evening. The mountains were cloaked in clouds. As we walked, a truck slowed to let us cross a road; the air felt warmer, the world friendlier, and I felt held by it all.
What about you, friends? What awakens you?