WINTER PATH . . . Breaking
trail through new snow in the Alps.
Winter Paths . . .
In the mountains above 1,600 meters, just below treeline in the north
of the Alps, winter comes and remains for a good half of the year. And
once the snow falls, it stays. This is because the air at that altitude is
lighter and colder, and because the sun retreats behind the higher peaks
to the south. For those of us who have not had the opportunity to experience
such a highcountry landscape first-hand, I can easily imagine that this sounds
terribly forbidding. But in fact, the very opposite is the case. I've frequently
heard older German climbers say that the higher up a peak they go, the
closer they feel to God. Well, if we were to say that God is truth, I would
certainly agree. Part of this is because we sense a return to natural simplicity;
instead of a meadow of a thousand blooms, we now have vast expanses of the
purest white. But there is also the great blanketing effect which comes with
deep snow. Imagine all the noise of the world—without a doubt wherever you
read this will have the not-so-distant roar of traffic in the background—as
a pile of the foulest filth, but now being progressively covered with layer upon
layer of soft, fluffy snow, snow the color of fresh cotton, the color of mother's
milk. Come about the beginning of January, all that remains is silence. And
yes, if we were to say that God is silence, I would certainly agree again.
So, with each passing storm of winter, the snow pack grows deeper and
deeper, and thoughts of religion as cathedrals and religion as belief in saviors
become like the clamor of cities, nothing but distant memories. What is sacred
but what I walk upon? And as the snow rises and hardens and consolidates, first
one foot, then two and five and six, there is a new found freedom about the land.
Asphalt vanishes, concrete disappears, and even large boulders and small spruce
trees are completely buried. So, after the storms clear, nature presents us with
a new blank page upon which to play. But this play, the winter paths in the snow
we create, moving from hut to barn to house, tells a remarkable tale. Perhaps it's
the beautifully balanced, graceful curves. Or the steady, unhurried rhythms,
movements which have left a trace, like melodies of a wooden flute lingering
in the evening air. A very human trace at that. Perhaps that is it. Not an alien
landscape shaped largely by aggressive entities like cars, but wholly by us,
and by us alone.
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