Being Present

by Allison Burden

Winter is different now that I am in my late thirties. It used to be a time of childhood wonderment: Gleefully watching the skies for a snowstorm significant enough to cancel school but still allow for outdoor play; trying to catch snowflakes on my dark mittens to examine the crystalline structure before they melted to a single water droplet; sculpting mounds of snow into even lumpier mounds resembling animals and spraying them with food coloring to increase their “lifelike” appearance; gazing up into the sky during a day of overly-large flakes trying to see exactly where they originate from.

But schooling and then work and other adult responsibilities began and it seemed like the list of to-dos and should-dos and must-dos multiplied at the same speed the dust bunnies collected under the couch. In this period of my life, winter/spring/summer/fall melded into an almost indistinct blur.

It was when I finally started to farm that I began to see the seasons again. 

My horse, Wasabi, lived with me for a period of a few years in Blue Hill until a move necessitated boarding him (This will be reversed, finally, this coming year). Those years he was at home, I had to go out in all weather twice a day everyday. I would clean out his stall, playing local rock on an old dust covered radio, which was easier in the warmer months, but more enjoyable in the winter.

Winter means little to no bugs (hooray), frozen poopsicles (easier scooping), and something I had forgotten–a sense of wonder. Being out and caring for Wasabi, I got to see the sun glittering off a foot of fresh snow, the local chickadees coming out to chitter and raid my bird feeder (which is a different perspective than from within the heated home), red and grey squirrels scurrying over drifts and up the bark of creaky pines in search of their hidden fall stashes.  

Sometimes I would see an old dried flower poking out and casting shadows the likes of which wouldn’t have been visible during the hot summer skies and in the presence of the more formidable oak.

The smell after a large blast of snow is crisp and new, and everything just seems so happy to have made it through the storm it begets a rise in spirits. If you have never stood in a barn doorway after chores and watched a gentle snowfall begin, then you are missing out. The quiet punctuated by clicks and pops as the trees adjust to the weather heightened by having completed a routine but necessary chore is calming in a way that nothing else can quite match. And, somehow, it just doesn’t seem that cold outside when this happens.

As a child, I remember playing outside for hours, not really feeling the cold. As a young adult, it seemed like I would rush from the car to the store because the frost that I exhaled seemed likely to freeze upon my face. But as an amateur farmer? I don’t feel the cold.

Even when I am out kicking the rubber water tubs and picking up the broken shards of ice with my bare hands to make way for the chickens, guineas, ducks, and sheep that now populate my little corner of the world, it just doesn’t bother me. Tossing flakes of hay for the sheep then stopping to watch them quarrel over which ovine gets the best pile my breath clouds my vision, but I smell hay and sheep.

The chickens who deign to leave their coop in the cold are rewarded with greens and cabbage from the grocer. Often their excitement will draw the other feathered beings out until the whole flock is feasting and alternating which foot to stand on, happily cooing and occasionally squabbling over a particularly tasty bit.

The antics of my feathered and woolen friends often elicit laughter, and the endless lists finally melt away; I am able to center myself and be present. It never lasts quite as long as I would like, but it occurs often enough that I find myself searching out reasons to extend my visitations to the animals who rely on me for their food and security.

Spring will come with its own rewards and tribulations, but for now I crave the quiet, the stillness, and the laughter of winter.

photo credit: Denys Nevozhai, Unsplash