You go to bed, the night inky black, aware that there is a field below your window full of dusty blonde grasses, dried clumps of goldenrod, scratchy patches of sepiaed clover. There is wind, so their brittle bodies rattle against each other like reluctant bones, or swish down and back up—thin, dilapidated flags of the retreating autumn. You do not consciously think of any of this. It just is, like the woods are beyond the field, hundreds of brown arms reaching into an open sky, and you rest with this image buried in your dreams.
But when you wake, you tug open your blinds, and the easy belief you held the night before of ordinary, of familiar, of something known is shocked out of your hands. No matter how many Minnesota winters you have experienced, the first snow storm of the season is always new, is always completely bewildering in its power to transform the recognizable into something other, something that is sudden, and total, and white.
You cannot believe how much snow has fallen while you slept. You cannot understand why you didn’t wake up, why some sound no matter how soft did not alert you. You just stand at the window, watching the quarter-sized flakes swirl in sometimes beautiful, sometimes ferocious, circles. You go out on the deck and put your hands in the stuff, making snowballs until your flesh stings, until your husband brings you mittens, and a hat, and a coat, and a grinning shake of the head. You tell him, “I’m going on a walk, now.” And he kisses your red wet nose.
And off you go, walking, the snow still flying, though a bit more slowly. You discover a landscape that did not exist twelve hours before: ground that sinks and crunches, wind that forms solid ledges where before there was only air, air that is crisper—studded with fireplace smoke. A few old friends poke up from that other, earlier world. That colored world. Today, you look ahead of you at a thick and heavy pale ocean.
You clomp along. You swim. Waves upon waves of white.
When you come across the berry trees, you’re a bit ecstatic, because of course there is color, and of course it is small and concentrated, at the ends of wands, full of power. Each one is dripping with water, and they look more lovely than the embers of a fire. You think the snow clings to the branches for as long as it can to stay near them.
You step. You stroke. Your eyelashes catch a dozen snowflakes and you look up.
A bird, dark and glistening, hops branches. You wonder about the fish in streams, the pheasants in fields—were they surprised, too, this morning? That season ago? Were they, like you, amazed at the white, the new spaces that extended out from every side? Because all that was small and light has been laid flat, and the things that are visible now are strong and ancient: two red granite boulders, an old gnarled oak. You imagine them as sentinels, guiding the deer home.
And when you walk into the woods—stepping over downed logs covered in nine inches of snow; crouching under and around branches and plants that have thistles and barbs that catch on your clothes; noticing animal tracks, bird song, snow slipping from the higher branches and thunking into the soft earth or smacking the top of your head—you think, I’m crazy for doing this. I’m such a dreamer. I’ve always been too much in the snow-heavy clouds. But then you look up—the branches a tangle of filigreed fingers—and down—a little leaf fallen right at your boot-toe—then within—because ever since you were small, the natural world has always been where you are truly and absolutely the most happy—and you realize the only thing that makes any sense is to keep walking.
Author - Emily Brisse lives, teaches high school English, and writes amid Minnesota’s deep seasons. She loves lakes. And hilltops. And just about anything outdoors. Her place-based writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Orion, New Plains Review, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, The Talking Stick, four Roadside Poetry billboards in northern MN, and Landing on Cloudy Water.