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Waking up to Hoarfrost

The landscape was covered in hoarfrost Wednesday morning. Hoarfrost is a deposit of ice crystals attached to exposed objects such as tree branches. It is produced by direct condensation of water vapor to ice when temperatures are below freezing and when the air is brought to its frost point by cooling. The word hoar is derived from the old English meaning “showing signs of old age”; the frost has the appearance of white hair on trees. The frosted trees were breathtakingly beautiful. It gave the landscape a peaceful and still feeling, it was almost dreamlike or like a fairy tale. Tiny, white diaphanous ice crystals clung to tree branches, stems and seed heads of grass and flowers. Ice crystals dangled on edges of leaves, remaining on branches like pins off a magnet and traced the outline of the leaves. As I walked, I couldn’t help but marvel at this beauty, I thought of how best to describe it and snapped so many photos. Stopping to take each photo, wanting the lens to focus just so, I tried to capture the beauty, not wanting to be careless nor did I want the camera to remove me from it. Before and after each photo was taken, I gazed upon the trees and ice crystals before me, soaking in the beauty. The white pines are perhaps my favorite. Frost clung to each green needle creating the most beautiful contrast and texture. This is a wondrous beauty, a great gift for those who grow weary of winter’s dreariness. So small and ornamental, like tiny fairies had spent the night hanging up decorations on every branch, leaf, and needle to adorn the woods in preparation of celebrating the birth of Christ.

I began to imagine, wonder about the creatures and the frost. Did the birds and squirrels appreciate the beauty? Did they notice? Did they offer prayers of thankfulness to the great Giver of life? Were they bothered by the frost on their perches? Perhaps they are completely indifferent. Ice crystals popping off the branch like buttons on a shirt as squirrels scamper across the limb. A blue jay sending a shower of frost drifting off the branch as it lands. The drilling of a woodpecker shakes the frost crystals from a tree. Perhaps deer at dawn looked up appreciating the beauty before settling into bed. Crows seemed irreverent of the mood; they shouted and carried on loudly breaking the silence, causing peace to retreat temporarily and my musings as well. I looked up at the noisy birds, trying not to be too annoyed, crows have a purpose too. They drifted back into the surrounding woods, done with their shouting. Somehow, a woodpecker tapping on a tree out of sight didn’t disturb the silence like the cawing of crows had, and peace returned. Walking back, I was still awed by stunning, indescribable beauty of the eastern white pine trees and marveled at a maple leaf on the ground, ice crystals settled on it but didn’t cling to it like they did on the oak leaves still attached to the tree.

Thinking with a heart filled with wonder, I reached up, having to stand on the tips of my toes and jump a little, I touched the whirl of pine needles. A shower of frost, not cold on my fingertips, dropped from the needles, slid down my hand, into my sleeve where it did feel cold against my wrist as it melted. No longer seeing with just my eyes, I became immersed in and a part of the frost covered landscape. As children, people are told often to look with their eyes only, indeed when at a museum that is necessary. However, when it comes to the natural world, to truly see, you have to use more than just your eyes to look. To really see you have to feel, touch, taste, smell, and listen. Seeing in nature requires the use of all five senses. Limiting yourself to using just your eyes, cuts you off; preventing you from being one with the trees, ice, birds, and the rest. Remaining separate from these defeats the purpose in being outdoors and keeps a person in a prison of indifference. To remain separate is dangerous and foolish. Indeed, too many people make the great mistake of thinking we are separate from nature. We are a part of nature, we need to stay (or become) connected with it, we have to develop that spiritual connection. Maintaining the spiritual bond with nature, the rocks, water, plants and animals, is important and essential to our survival. We are a part of it; we depend on nature for sustenance, shelter, clothing, food and enjoyment. We are not outside the circle of life; we are in the circle too. What happens to our world and  environment, happens to us too. Our existence shrinks with the diminishing of natural areas (resources), and animal diversity and population. It’s not just a matter of surviving that is at stake, but the quality of life, the ability to truly live. Sigurd F. Olson believed man (and woman) needs untouched wild places to explore, beauty to seek. To feel a sense of wonder, people need to become one with nature, to have a spiritual connection, in order to live full, happy and content lives. Too many people have become disconnected from nature, indifferent, and have lost essential knowledge about life. They forget what supports human life: where do the materials for shelter and clothes come from, what is the origin of food and water? Minerals from the ground, trees, plants, and animals – all these things are necessary to sustain us. People get so caught up in diets of the month, new ethics and activist trends they forget the circle of life and where we come from, that we are a part of it. They forget human and natural history. Some people get upset about hunters killing animals or even farmers raising animals but if they viewed people as part of nature and the circle of life they would see the necessity in these things. Kenny Salwey (The Last River Rat) believed people needed to see this, see the big picture and work together to protect habitats (the environment) and the creatures that live in them. Apathy for the natural world, or for anything besides the self, has become a great threat. People just don’t care. They are stuck in an apathetic slumber that could destroy our world.

Salwey believed our hope lies in children (I am actually a part of the generation he was speaking of); he thought young people are better educated and have more knowledge about the environment. Once taught about it, they care. I have seen this in action with the children I am privileged to teach, once they understand and learn more facts, the deeper they care. For example, at first they are scared of a snake, but with knowledge, they become interested and empathetic. Salwey thought adults are too set in their ways to change, especially when it comes to setting aside differences and working together. However, I believe there are some adults that have a child’s heart locked away that can be coaxed into caring again. Sometimes they can be touched by words in a book. Sometimes a child can point out the wonders of our world and free adults from a prison of apathy. It is not too late for adults who have become disconnected to allow themselves to once again form that spiritual bond with nature. Although Olson preferred exploring the intensely dramatic landscape of the Quetico Superior canoe wilderness area, Richard Louve in the Last Child in the Woods mentioned a good start is to simply step outside the door and go for a walk, taking note of the trees, birds and squirrels and other wildlife around.

This morning and nearly every morning, I walk along the road, it isn’t dramatic nor remote (though some days I don’t encounter anyone) but it offers stunning beauty in the change of each season and the birds singing happily, squirrels chattering, tracks in the snow, hoarfrost on plants and trees. Even on the roadside, I can connect with nature, feel it flowing inside of me, and find joy, refreshment and renewal of spirit and strength. Wonder at the extravagant beauty God has lavished upon us through creation can be found just by stepping away from the artificial world we have created for ourselves. We were designed to be outdoors, rolling around in nature, getting covered in it, feeling the healing touch from the bond. I think that’s why I love living and working on a farm so much, I get to spend all day as I work surrounded by nature, being intimate with it.

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