Pepin: Recognizing the kind of day that calls for silent waiting

“Oh baby, I am drained of color, I can’t go anywhere. Your love left me in another gray area.”

– Graham Parker

There’s a sadness in the wind today as it blows across this river valley.

The snow stirs up in swirls and spins around before dropping back to the ground.

If I look across the expanse, it’s like watching water slowly beginning to boil. A short burst of snow and wind will pop up here and then there and then way over there.

To me, the wind seems sullen and temperamental today, like it’s only blowing because it needs to. Something is troubling it.

I know that feeling myself – putting one foot in front of the other and then repeating the movement only to keep trudging forward.

My mind digs into the process as I feel my legs get heavier. Lifting them becomes a chore and I wish that I could sleep, just lay down and sleep. Like Dorothy in the field of poppies, waiting for the snow to find me.

I hear a melody played on a piano, a simple tune that slowly floats and falls over one phrase and then another – it’s like a leaf floating atop the water in a creek, drifting downstream.

My consciousness follows suit, rushing a little to keep up with the notes. I lose the tempo momentarily before finding it again. I stumble over the staff into the bass clef.

As I reach for a rock to steady myself, I discover a note sheet scribbled down in pencil. I follow the tune through a series of quarter and half notes – common time, move it like you feel it.

In other words, not too fast, only fast enough to sweep along, dusting like a broom.

I wonder why the river here is open wide, flowing deep and strong, while the creeks feeding into it are frozen over themselves. They are even wearing a fresh coat of winter’s snow, light and fluffy.

At first, I thought the wind might be following the skies in hanging low to the ground, gray and blue and dark and lonesome. However, I realized that wasn’t likely the case when I felt the momentary warmth of sunshine warming my face.

If this was a different scene, say a farming parcel with an old house and a creaking weathervane atop an old barn, I’m sure I’d hear the wind slamming back a screen door against its frame in a whoosh and a bang!

The sound would scatter the chickens pecking at the ground in the yard, causing them to right themselves to begin clucking and moving around in circles, low to the ground.

Maybe I was right, for as the sunshine disappears quickly behind a thick bank of gray clouds, the wind snarls and cuts a slice across the watercourse, stirring up snow like sawdust in the wake of a whirling circular blade.

I’m lucky today. I don’t have to walk anywhere if I don’t want to. I don’t need to move at all. I could lay here in the snow, up against this tree, forming up solid, slowly like concrete.

I can just stare across this scene all day if I’d like.

I don’t have to work or be anywhere particular. That alone is a fine luxury, one not often afforded to the likes of me. I’ve got too much happening.

I’m like a one-armed juggler with that arm loaded with plates and five or six more floating above my head in mid-air.

I know it won’t be long before I hear the crashing sound and see the countless pieces of chipped and broken milk glass scattering around my feet.

Maybe the wind is jealous of my circumstances today.

After all, who am I to be able to sit in such fine luxury when working stiffs, like this wind, have got to blow around all day long?

Then again, maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe the wind isn’t sad or bothered at all.

Maybe it’s bored by the gray and nondescript nature of this winter afternoon and it’s throwing things up in the air to keep things on the interesting side.

I can see that too. If not for the wind, there isn’t much at all moving across this lonesome location. I know I’m not. I’m like a toadstool or a tree stump, just sitting here waiting for the sun to shine on me while I’m sedentary and decaying, little by little.

If that is indeed the case, then by all means, blow wind blow. I’ll tip my hat to you as you do. Breathe some life into the soft and silent pines and the non-quaking aspens here. Make them whisper amongst each other.

Stir up the birds, awaken the squirrels from their midday slumbers. It’s time to hang up the sombrero. Siesta is over, Senor.

I kick my boots together to shake off the snow. I think to myself that if the wind really wanted to do something, it could blow these gray skies out to the coast or up across the thin soils of the Canadian Shield.

Then the sunshine might be convinced to come back to these latitudes to address the sunken souls and saddened hearts with a fine and hearty hello.

Of course, I’ll never really know why the wind has decided to blow how it does on a particular day in an individual way. It’s swirled up in a question of balance, of low and high pressures.

However, I’m a student of the gray areas. Even if the black-and-white evidence were laid at my feet in stubborn scientific and mathematical terms, I would always believe there is more to find in the situation.

Do you really think a bird sounds the way it does when it sings its song on a particular day in an individual way that it’s only a function of wind and air, physical and biological mechanics?

No way. Never. Not in a billion years.

Isn’t there more to just about every situation than meets the naked eye at face value?

A popular phrase of the day would argue to the contrary – “it is what it is.”

But I think there is an intangible element to everything we sense, think and do. It’s part of our nature and the nature around us, but it’s unrevealed, undefined, but as surely present as fire and ice.

There is certainly mystery and gray in the nighttime sky, in the water and the wind, even in the dirt beneath our feet – and certainly within us all.

Today is the kind of day that calls for silent waiting and listening for a sign, a reason or a truth to reveal itself.

The possibility of that happening is always out there, making itself look thin against the trunk of some wind-beaten black spruce or behind a cold wall of jagged slate, waiting to appear when the time is right.

That’s the color of another gray area.

But I’m content to wait all day and then some if it takes that long. If there is something to be revealed I can wait. I don’t want to sneak into the closet to tug away the wrapping of my Christmas presents two weeks before the big day arrives.

There is more than one reason why patience is a virtue.

So, while I wait, I sit here wondering about the wind and why it blows the way it does on this particular day in its interesting way.

Sometimes it’s so soft it can scarcely be heard, while in an instant it shifts into playful jabs at the shrubs and the snow, lifting it off the ground, tossing it into the air. Then maybe a big deep breath of bluster to make us all wake up.

I think the most interesting thing about the wind today is that despite the overall grayness of the scene, the sunken nature of my disposition and my lackluster sense of just about everything, the wind can move me.

It has moved me to think about the way it blows, where it comes from and where it might be tomorrow. It lifted my head from looking down at the ground to consider the possibilities that exist out there even far beyond the stars.

So, I think it’s time to get up from the base of this tree that has held my form for a good while now, keeping me sheltered and snug. It’s time to get back up and keep moving ahead.

For the time of revelation has arrived and passed. I am grateful that I was present and perceptive enough in the moment to receive and understand it.

The wind holds such a tremendous power that even when it doesn’t blow, it’s communicating.

As is often the case, when I stop and sit long enough to think, to listen and to wonder, truths are revealed, teaching me that I have so much to learn and time is on the devil’s side. Not mine.

Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.


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