I tugged my second mitten up onto my hand, and checked that the knitted fabric of my hat was warming my head to its fullest extent. I was intending to start my walk off immediately, giving the relentless cold of the Maine air no extra chances at seeping in and chilling my stationary body. However, upon looking up, my plans momentarily paused.
The rugged beauty of this place seemed to catch me off guard and stop me dead in my tracks every time. It so greatly contrasted the tailored neatness of each little yard back in suburban Maryland where I spent the rest of my year. I breathed deeply, inhaling a degree of crispness that I was certain had no equal. Pine blended with smoke from the log fire crackling inside and the combination left me feeling more alive than I knew possible.
The forest was all browns and greens, the sky gray, yet not remotely depressing. The different browns left from foliage fallen over many Autumns built a dense cover through which the ground could not be seen in the entire woods. The trunks of ancient pines and oaks shot into the air, branchless until much higher. Meanwhile, younger trees, no longer saplings, created a lower level of boughs.
As I took in the scene around me, feeling comfortably insignificant in a place so vast and wild, the dry air began to trickle into my eyes. They watered, I blinked several times, and the moment was over. Remembering my plan to avoid the chill, I started off. The world was perfectly silent as I moved along, save for the crunching of my boots along the icy ground. Every so often I would pass a pond or stream, each with a white covering that told of a thick frozen layer beneath. On the road, places where rain had collected in a pothole was frozen the same cloudy color.
I carried on my brisk pace for the most part, stopping now and then to investigate the intricate patterns made by deep cracks running through these spots. Coming to the end of our driveway, I halted, but not for fear of a car or truck whizzing by. This was a place where there was never any need to worry about that. Even in the summertime, when the cottages speckling the lake’s shoreline were bustling with activity, much traffic on our small side road was rather infrequent. On the occasion that the odd mud-streaked car or pick-up truck drove through it was always at a cautious pace, wary of the twisty wooded path and uneven ground.
During winter, the cabins were sealed tightly and a ghost town was formed, desolate and utterly deserted, save for us. Hence, I was not paused at the split in the road for safety’s sake. I was simply deciding which way to go. If I headed right I would pass by a few snow-covered, little-league ball fields and find myself at a larger side road. To my left was another branch of the same unpaved road, along which I had been previously ambling. I chose left. The path less traveled generally tended to be the one that I ended up on, anyway.
I wandered along, noticing the tiny icicles hanging from branches here and there. They sparkled and reflected one another and I suddenly wondered how one could spend so much money on gemstones when these things of splendid beauty lined the trees for free. I continued on my way, pleasantly deep in the thought.
Arriving at a dead end, I began to cut cross country, leaves crackling loudly with each step. I trekked along carefully, keeping an eye out for frozen puddles. Having wandered along for a little while, I felt a slight shiver run through me as a breeze began to pick up. The air around me became even more fresh and a new smell mingled with the existent ones. It seemed to me that if the purest, brightest light that shone from an icy world could embody a scent, then this would be it.
I had emerged at the lake. Its appearance suggested that it was from a world altogether separate from the one that I had seen here just months before. I stared in awe at one place while I remembered another and I wondered how the two could be the same. The inviting warmth of endless little green-blue waves was the last I had seen of the stark expanse, uneven, hardened, and stretching before me. I stood there, stunned into stillness. The breeze, once a slight zephyr, picked up into a wind that wrapped around me like a blanket of cold.
I huddled on an armchair-sized rock, taller than it was wide. Gradually, my initial gawk became more of a contemplative gaze as I slid deep into thought once more. Mine was a comfortable sort of silence as I stood there that day. Maybe a little sad, but not in a miserable sense. It was the sadness that helped create the calm. It was the calm that helped establish the inner peace. And it was the inner peace that helped me connect every aspect of my life in certain way. A certain way that prompted me to whisper words that captured the loveliness of that connection.
As a young girl stood by the edge of a frozen lake on a wintry day in Maine, a sigh was carried off on the wind that sounded awfully like “God’s in His Heaven and all’s right with the world.”
Sophia Anne Charles is a talented, emerging writer of nature-oriented poetry and thoughtful, short fiction. Her focus is the intersection of nature, the human spirit and life’s often-lost simple observations. She resides in Gaithersburg, MD, USA.
Photo by Ying-Feng Johansson