‘Just another extraordinary Wednesday’

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Last Wednesday started out like an ordinary day, or as ordinary as they have been during a pandemic—I woke up around 7:30 and moved through my usual morning routines and practices, took (with permission) a single sip of Shawn’s coffee, and set about my Wednesday morning work list (I am lost without my many lists).

More than I usually do, I kept glancing at the time on every available device. At 10:40 a.m. I got in the car and headed to Hannaford in North Conway. I walked in, breezed past the carts and baskets, and headed straight to the pharmacy.

Four of us arrived at about the same time, checked in, submitted IDs, and filled out some paperwork. As I took the clipboard and pen into my hands, the friendly pharmacist rolled her eyes a little and smiled, anticipating the question that never left my lips but certainly bubbled up in my mind: ‘And yes, this is the exact same questionnaire you just completed online… this is Hannaford’s version.’

I took my seat with the others and filled in my answers. No one spoke until a young woman named Anna wheeled out her cart and introduced herself, telling us that we would be receiving our first dose of the Moderna vaccine today, that our second appointments would be made for us, that we would be cursing her that night for our sore arms, and asked that we stay for fifteen minutes after our shots to make sure there were no adverse reactions. And were there any questions?

There were not.

Suddenly, purses were set down, jackets were coming off, and sleeves were being rolled up. I watched the other three people get theirs first. The first recipient took a selfie and said nothing. Anna wheeled over to the next two, a married couple, and asked, ‘Are you excited?’ And after a moment’s hesitation, the wife said, ‘I suppose’ and everyone laughed along with her. The wife got her shot, and then the husband, and then more silence.

Anna wheeled over to me. I asked her, ‘Do you mind if I take a selfie?’ She said, ‘Not at all, please do!’ I added, ‘I rarely take selfies, but this moment seems pretty important.’ She said, ‘Absolutely!’ The first recipient then chimed in, saying, ‘My selfie didn’t turn out, I missed it somehow.’ Anna said, ‘We can stage one for you afterwards,’ which made both of them very happy.

I felt her swab my left arm, and as I looked at the screen of my phone, I felt no hint of pain as she administered the shot. As she was finishing up, I looked in her eyes and said, ‘Thank you,’ and she smiled and said, ‘You’re so welcome’—and it was at this moment that I felt the enormity of the whole experience. Suddenly, there was a lump in my throat, and tears of gratitude welling in the corners of my eyes.

I watched Anna with the first recipient as they reenacted the moment for the missed selfie, everyone smiling behind their masks. After I quickly posted my own photo, I put my phone in my pocket and decided to spend the fifteen minutes sitting as mindfully as I could. I paid close attention to the warm and strange feeling in my left arm; to the beating of my heart, now much more relaxed and settled; to my breath coming and going on its own; to the motions of those picking up prescriptions; to the small, friendly conversations that bubbled up here and there; to shoppers wheeling by with fresh vegetables and bread and toothpaste; to the sounds of a barely perceptible pop song playing through overhead speakers (‘Just another manic Monday…’); to a feeling of awe at the marvels of modern medicine and the human triumph over disease; to the thought of the many thousands of people who were not fortunate enough to live long enough to receive this vaccine that could have saved their lives and those of others.

Every Wednesday, every moment, is extraordinary, when I look closely enough.

Fifteen minutes later, we were sent on our way with our IDs, new vaccine record cards, and information about our next appointments. I walked out into the early spring sunshine, more aware of my posture and of my left arm, feeling lighter, happier, and so full of hope and gratitude.

I arrived home to the intoxicating smells and sounds of pancakes cooking on the stove. I really am lucky beyond belief. I hugged and kissed the chef and thanked him, ate my pancakes, and got back to work.

Taking baby steps with (and like) a hornet.

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(the pre-show view from the balcony at SMAC on Thursday night)

This past week was all about taking baby steps and knocking the rust off of things—my in-person performance chops, my out-in-the-wild social skills, and, most especially, my ability to stay present in the quickly changing circumstances of all these things.

This past Thursday night, Shawn and I played in the barn of Stone Mountain Arts Center, a local listening room gem that has hosted everyone from Lyle Lovett to Judy Collins to… me?? The main hall is dark right now, and so owners Carol and Jeff have transformed their barn lobby into a magical place with little ‘hobbit holes’ where folks can dine in little pods and then move their chairs a little and take in whatever is happening in the middle of the barn—and on Thursday night, it was Shawn and I that were happening.

It was my first time in front of a living, breathing, in-person audience since last August. Applause?! Wow, what is that?! Faces not on a screen?! Really feeling someone’s presence. Really hearing their silence. Really noticing their eyes smiling above their masks. How full of life each and every one of us is. Every moment was beautiful, and I leaned into every second without reservation. The waves of joy and surprise and ease and even awkwardness and discomfort that rise and fall during what used to feel so commonplace are an experience that I hope to never take for granted ever again.

After we set up and sound-checked, we were seated up in the corner of the balcony. This was a five course dinner deal, and we weren’t excluded from this star treatment. Vegan delight after vegan delight arrived at our station, and we were stuffed full before the main course.

Shawn joked, ‘Carol, you’re spoiling us! Every gig should be like this! Play a couple songs, eat some food, play a couple more songs, eat more food…’

Shortly after the second round of music, I was making my way back upstairs when I was stopped by someone wanting to briefly chat. As I looked deeply into the eyes of this fellow human—another action I hope to never take for granted ever again—I thought I felt something crawling on my left hand and, without looking away from my conversation that was now coming to a close, I brushed away the nuisance. What came next as I walked back to my table was an excruciating pain along the edge of my left palm below the base of my pinky. The hell is this? I thought to myself, and then realized that I had just been stung by one of the few hornets that all of us up in the balcony had been noticing as they performed their early-spring, aimless, slow-motion drift, newly awakened from within the walls of the old barn.

The side of my hand was swelling quickly. I went and got washed up and someone brought me a bag of ice. Within minutes, I was eating more delicious food, laughing the whole thing off, and ready to play the rest of the night with no problems. Carol apologized to me profusely. I smiled and said, ‘I appreciate that, but it’s no big deal, really. It’s just preparing me for my first vaccine this week.’ (This Wednesday!)

‘She’s a tough kid,’ she told the chuckling crowd as we started the next round.

Later, after getting home and feeling so full in heart, body, and mind, I realized how similar I am to that hornet—slowly waking up from the hibernation of this whole last year, moving around with some sloth and uncertainty, not quite in my rhythm yet—and, in my exhaustion, not without some venom and the ability to use it! I hope I can always remember to contain my grumpiness, and laugh and be grateful instead, as we all take these baby steps back to shared in-person experiences.

I wanna be like water when I grow up.

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(A wall of ice with Shawn for scale)

Shawn and I were able to observe one of our yearly traditions this past week—hiking up to Arethusa Falls as close to the first day of spring as our lives will allow.

The falls are accessible by a fairly easy, in-and-back trail at the southern end of Crawford Notch State Park, with about 800 feet of elevation gain. It’s beautiful any time of year, but March is our favorite for several reasons: there are usually very few people around; there’s still enough snow and ice on the trail to both smooth out the usually rocky, rooty trail and require the use of our micro-spikes; and the unique beauty that awaits us at the top—a wall of water over a hundred feet tall almost entirely encased in bluish ice.

What draws my attention most strongly to memories of past years’ hikes to this gorgeous place is the sound of the water moving, rumbling, tumbling, behind and underneath the ice. I love hopping here and there when we get up to the top, seeking out all the different sounds and tones and harmonics that are unique to this short window of spacetime.

We didn’t make the trek last year. We had just gotten home from the cancelled tour and, along with the rest of the world, entered into isolation from the pandemic with a sense of withdrawal from the life we once knew, as if it were now out of reasonable reach and accessible now only by memory.

I have thought of these falls now and again over the past year, eager to see them again in the state we found them last Tuesday. In my rumination, I’ve been so deeply comforted by the fact that, while the humans of the world adapted to the new normal being built from and around the pandemic, the water continued to move, day after day, over that wall of rock and earth, following the ancient course of every drop of the world’s water back towards the sea from which all life emerged. In this way, each drop is coming and going again and again, partnered with gravity in an infinite dance.

I could learn a thing or two from the moving water. It’s simple and easy. It knows the way, and never questions it. It holds and changes its form, effortlessly, no matter the conditions. It’s essential for life. It’s best when it’s unpolluted. It’s flowing and soft, and yet steady and strong enough to wear away rock and earth. I wanna be more like water when (if?) I grow up.

Dirty dogs and frost heaves.

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The first day of spring here in the northeastern US is a big deal—it’s the official farewell to winter, to night being longer than day; it’s a celebration of the turning of this big beautiful planet towards warmth and light, rebirth and joy. No matter how much beauty one finds in winter—and there is plenty!—the anticipation of spring and all of its stored-up joy is immutable. The shiver one feels in the still-cold mornings doesn’t survive the warmth that is generated in one’s heart in mid-March as the ugly snowbanks give up their form and the sun bends just so through the kitchen window.

That stored-up joy leaks out in so many ways this time of year in the northeast. I feel it as I soften into the warmth of the fleece on my back as it absorbs the sunlight. I hear it in the thunder of sheets of melting snow sliding off the roof and onto the lawn. It appears as I stand in the driveway listening to a single tufted titmouse ‘peter-peter-peter’-ing in its search for a mate. It’s in the laughter shared with a friend while we watch their two freshly bathed dogs rolling around in the dirty, newly-revealed front yard.

All of this joy is also accompanying the news of loved ones near and far who either have received, or are about to receive, their second vaccination. While I’m feeling really hopeful these days, I’m also noticing the urge to skip right over the ugly-dirty-snowbanks-melting-and-the-frost-heaves-are-still-flattening-out-and-when-can-I-please-get-my-first-shot phase and get right to the yay-it-is-finally-summer-and-it’s-safe-to-come-out-now-and-travel-and-hug-and-sing-with-my-friends-and-do-all-the-happy-things-all-at-once-right-this-damned-minute phase.

Then I remember that wanting is the root of suffering, and the other day I started singing, over and over, the seedling of a new song:

Does anything need to change right now?

It’s a really good question, and one that I am constantly asking myself these days.

Yes, I’m impatient.

Yes, it’s seemed like an especially long winter, and it has certainly been a long strange year.

And yes, it is possible to be happy right here, staring at this screen, or staring out the window, or laughing at a clean-oops-now-dirty dog rolling in the dirt. I can even find happiness in slowing down, over and over, as I navigate the frost heaves that are flattening out— and yes, maybe more slowly than I would like, but flattening out all the same.

Just like those frost heaves, both my impatience and my joy continue to rise up, make themselves known, and then fall away again.

I don’t want to resist the dirt. I wanna be like those pups I saw this week and roll around in it—carefree and full of laughter and an openness to the fullness of experience.

Equanimity, anyone?

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Many are marking their one-year-of-COVID anniversaries with an outpouring of stories, colored by every hue of disbelief, despair, longing, grief, and also hope, resilience, surprise, and even awe.

Awareness of the pandemic, and especially of the immediate impact it would have on my life, exploded in my brain on the evening of March 6, 2021 at the Mudville Music Room in Jacksonville, FL. Shawn and Davy and I were eating our pre-show meals and scrolling through our phones when Shawn announced that the entire SXSW conference had been cancelled.

‘They cancelled the whole conference?’ I replied, my voice loud and incredulous enough to draw the attention of others in the venue who were awaiting both their own meals and their entertainment from us.

‘We’ll probably all be going home in a week,’ Davy said with a bit of a chuckle.

No, I thought, pushing on this unpleasant idea as strongly as I could. I was immediately carried off on a train of thoughts:

Dammit, that means we won’t get to perform our SX showcase!

and

Are we gonna have to cancel the rest of this tour?

and

I don’t want to get sick.

and

I don’t want to get anyone else sick.

and

Shit, I’m never gonna sell all these brand new band T-shirts.

Davy was right. Over the next few days, the tour fell out from under us. Except for a live radio spot in Tampa and our last scheduled Florida show on the 14th, all our remaining gigs cancelled on us. We wouldn’t be touring Texas this year, nor would I be seeing any family in Houston, nor passing through my beloved Crescent City on the way.

This past year is the longest I’ve spent anywhere since before 2010. I worried that after a few weeks of hunkering down at home, I would get too restless not being able to get the hell out of Dodge on the regular to see and experience something new. I worried about the future. I felt powerless to the changes.

In fact, what I’ve realized in the last year is how happy I can be keeping completely still, and how deeply satisfied I am with the choices I’ve made in my life—who my partner is, who my friends are, how I structure my days with various practices and disciplines and joys. Happiness isn’t out on the road somewhere. It’s right here, in my heart and mind, even when it seems a bit out of reach, even when I believe that it’s not possible. If I remember to look, it’s available to me anytime. I have thousands of photos, videos, and journal entries to scratch the itch of reliving past adventures. And I have the time and ability to gather up and set down some new observations, plans, and hopes. There’s time now for new song ideas and new ways to share them, and for noticing the subtle changes that occur along the path of my daily walk—new bird songs, new growth on the forest floor, new beer cans discarded out of open windows, new sets of footprints from fellow creatures following impulses of their own.

This past year has also been a beautiful reminder of how generous and loving and caring folks are. As soon as we got home from Florida, I wrote and recorded a song about toilet paper, based on a poem I wrote during the loooooooong drive home, that kinda sorta went viral. And that was fun! And the laughter during a scary moment was appreciated so much by folks that they—strangers, friends, family—started sending money. Shawn and I started live-streaming that weekend, and again, the donations poured in. For the last year, I’ve made my living entirely from the value that others place on what I do. Donations, tips, gifts, pledges on Patreon, PayPal, Venmo, checks in the mail with lovely handwritten notes. That’s amazing to me. What a humbling gift!

And most of the T-shirts did sell eventually. And of course they did, because people rock!

With vaccines rolling out now—at the speed of imperfect and well-meaning humanity—I’m feeling hopeful and curious about the future. I’m also feeling so grateful for what I have, what I’ve learned, and for the reminder that life has always been, and will always be, uncertain—and being able to cultivate equanimity is the key to staying relaxed in the shadow of that fact. When I remember to breathe and allow myself to feel the negative feelings more clearly, rather than push them away, then they can burn out under the magnifying glass of mindfulness.

As we all mark this strange and stark anniversary, I hope that you can notice and reflect on the small sources of happiness around you that ring the gentle bells of beauty and joy in your own heart.

A year without hugs.

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I just realized that it’s been almost a year since I hugged anyone besides Shawn.

And boy, do I know how lucky I am to live with a hugger. And I am so grateful!

I’ve stayed healthy and happy over this past year, with a few dips of bummed-out-ness here and there. Those dips correlate with how much I miss my friends, and how I do miss hugging them, very much.

The last people I hugged were Davy’s brother and sister-in-law, in the driveway of their winter place in Florida as the trio shoved off for home from the cancelled second half of our six week tour. I even wrote in my journal that it was ‘going to be weird to not be gigging for a few weeks.’ Now, it looks like all touring is off the table until 2022. And who knew that hugging would be off the table for this long, too?

I remember distinctly the first time I thought that I shouldn’t hug someone. It was at our Pensacola show on that ill-fated tour. A new HPAT fan was regaling me at the merch table, buying a T-shirt and some CDs, very excited to meet me. The news had grown more worrisome in those first days of March 2020, but emergency had not yet been declared. This new and excited fan really wanted a hug, and I gave her one, and I remember feeling so sad at the possibility that this simple expression of affection and care could endanger someone’s well-being.

(Of course, in that moment we were all ignorant to the fact that the several hundred of us who were gathered at the venue that night may have already been endangering each other’s health! It makes me shudder to think of it now!)

The human spirit is strong and innovative. I know someone who hugged her aging dad through a clear plastic sheet while visiting him at the nursing home.

This past year has been so difficult, and we’re all finding ways to cope. It’s also brought into full relief the fact that we all have a finite number of encounters, and hugs, with the people we love. Cherish every single one.

Turning 11 at 45.

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Last Friday marked an anniversary for me.

I used to define February 26 in terms like: ‘It’s been (blank) years since I left that creep.’ Always in reference to him, to his presence in my life, to his behavior.

Over time, it grew into something like: ‘It’s been (blank) years since I took my life back.’ I was growing in appreciation for myself, but still in a defensive stance—not fully trusting yet, and still referencing a struggle with him.

Last Friday, I wrote in my journal: ‘Eleven years ago today, I asserted my self-worth in a very demonstrable way.’ Now that sounds like a bird who knows the strength of her own wings.

To tell you the truth, there is nothing special, really, about February 26, though I have to admit that I’ve come to think of it as a sort of birthday. On that particular day in 2010—on a Friday, in fact—with the help of a dear friend, I gathered a few of my things and fled to safety, and began the long road that brought me to this blank page, to these words, and to sharing my heart in this way.

Surviving abuse is time travel. Trauma, like grief, is something I experience as going in and out of remission. A face, a thought, a song, a fictional character, a scent—anything can transport the mind to the past. All is well until it isn’t. And when it isn’t, nurturing pathways of support—and the importance of a self-empathy practice—are key components to finding one’s way through the wormhole back to now.

If I’ve learned anything in the last eleven years, it’s this: Every day, every moment, every breath is a chance to start anew, and to ‘assert one’s self-worth in a very demonstrable way.’ Every day is a birthday—for a person or an idea or a new path in life. Every moment, when you look deeply enough, is truly a cause for celebration. And I intend to keep my party hat on as often as I can, for as long as I can.

Mardy.

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A bad photo of a great person – taken shortly after he delivered a bit of brilliance at Norway Open Mic Night in October 2003

In the weeks and months after September 11, 2001, I was deeply saddened by news reports about how folks were staying home, frightened into isolation by the terrorist attacks, clinging to the familiarity and comforts of home. My intuitions suggested that, perhaps, creating something around which folks could regularly gather would help restore some normalcy, some hope, some light in the darkness. So, in January 2002, my friend Diane and I launched the Norway Open Mic Night, held in the fellowship hall of the First Universalist Church of Norway, Maine. On the last Friday of each month, she handled the refreshments, and I handled the entertainment, and we opened the doors to whomever would show up. For the next ten years, it was a local staple and a wildly popular event both for churchgoers and folks in the wider community.

On a last Friday in early 2003, the church’s board meeting was wrapping up upstairs as the open mic was getting underway. An older gentleman came down the stairs, poked his head in, smiled curiously, and decided to stay. At the end of the evening, he introduced himself as Mardy, the church treasurer, and could he have one of my cards? What a sweet guy, I remember thinking.

He wasted no time emailing me. If memory serves, Mardy reached out to me the very next morning after the open mic, explaining that their music director was resigning, and would I be interested in taking his place? Even if on a temporary basis? I agreed to a temporary position, and stayed on for 16 years—in large measure because of the loving, caring congregation that grew to be like family—and there at the center of it all was Mardy.

Mardy wasn’t just the church treasurer—it turns out he was a hell of a bass in the choir, and could sing tenor whenever called upon. His excitement for things was infectious— he was able to draw more people into the choir fold, including my dear friend Bernice, with whom I’ve formed a deep and beautiful friendship, out of which has come Heart Songs & Circle Songs.

That was Mardy—always connecting dots between people and things, solving life’s puzzles, lighting up every corner with his boyish, genuine enthusiasm.

Mardy was other things, too—a physicist; a lover and reciter of poetry; a deep, insatiably curious thinker; a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat; a jokester; father; friend; and husband to Cynthia, who also sang beautifully in the choir and recited poetry and nurtured every flower and shrub to maximum fullness of life and beauty and rooted shamelessly for the Red Sox—and loved and adored Mardy until the day she succumbed to Alzheimer’s in 2011. Witnessing Mardy’s care and love and concern for Cynthia, both in sickness and in health, was another bright shining light in the lives of all who were fortunate enough to know the Seaveys.

Mardy was a regular at the open mics, too. He became well known for his brilliant, entertaining recitations of ‘Jabberwocky’, and for his whimsical rendition of Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘When The Night Wind Howls’ at Halloween—and accompanying him on the piano and interjecting with the ha-HA!s is a joy I’ll not soon forget. (And he NAILED it!) And he cheered the rest of us on as heartily and as happily as we did for him.

Directing him in the choir on Sunday mornings was also such a treat for me. Not only was he a gifted singer, and so willing and eager to share his gift, but he was also deeply committed to getting his part right. He’d get so frustrated with himself when he couldn’t quite get some tough passage exactly right, and when I’d nudge him, gently, towards the correct tempo or the correct notes, he’d grumble a little, and then as he sank into it, that voice would grow more and more sure of itself, growing in volume and in intensity… and when it was ‘showtime’, during any church service, wow!, did he deliver, and then some, with so much gusto and style that he’d often bring many of the congregants—and this choir director—to genuine tears of joy.

One of the dearest memories I have of Mardy—of anyone, in fact—is his soaring rendition of ‘The Christmas Song’, sung on some Christmas Eve for a packed house—and lucky me, once again, I got to be his accompanist. For a few sublime moments, we were all transported to a place where ‘kids from one to ninety-two’ were anxiously awaiting Santa’s arrival, wide-eyed and full of joy and wonder—and Mardy, with his smiling, golden voice, took us there.

It seems impossible to me that Mardy died this past Friday, after living for nearly a century, succumbing to his own battle, his with heart failure. I had only spoken to him once since the pandemic began—believing, as we all do, that the wisest and strongest among us will live forever and always be there for us. And whenever I did speak to him in the those years after he moved from the Norway area over to the seacoast, after we got through the usual questions of ‘How are you doing?’ and ‘What are you reading right now?’, more than anything, he wanted to hear what I was up to musically, and after I’d tell him, he would always tell me, more than once, how much he enjoyed my music and his time with the Norway UU Choir. His was a passion that he wanted you to know and not forget, dammit. He insisted on sharing his passion and curiosity with anyone who would listen—and those of us who were lucky enough to know him would simply lean in and listen for more.

I loved him so much. I still do. Everyone who ever heard his voice, and his chuckle, and experienced his kindness, his humor, and the light of his curious eyes couldn’t help but love him. And boy, did he love us back.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

We all know what it means.

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I’m excited for tomorrow night’s live-stream show with my quartet. We’re doing a special Mardi Gras show from the stage of The Majestic Theatre here in Conway, NH. We’ve been rehearsing, masked up and distanced, for a couple of weeks now, and I think we’re sounding pretty damn good. After months of being apart, it’s amazing to be making music and fun with these fellas again.

In the process of getting ready for this show, I’ve been looking through photos from many New Orleans adventures, to share before and during the live-stream, and I came across this one:

and immediately my heart ached, but in a beautiful way. This was a moment that I’ll cherish forever – Shawn and I in 2012, first year campers at the New Orleans Trad Jazz Camp, having just performed a set of fun music with new friends at the legendary Preservation Hall. We were hot as hell, and excited. Are there marks on my arm from me pinching myself?!

It’s amazing how a photograph can instantly transport you, to conjure a cascade of fond and forgotten memories. I see our faces here, just a couple years into our relationship. I think now of the miles and years and adventures that lay ahead for those two young’ns – the touring and the songs and the adventures – and the gray that has crept into more recent photos, but the smiles and the joy and the love remain. We still return, year after year (except 2020), to the city that continues surprise and delight and challenge us. We bring our love of this place to every stage, every song, every performance, and to many of our moments together in our day to day life.

As the song asks and I answer: Yes, I do know what it means to miss New Orleans. Each of us misses some place, too – a place that makes your heart sing at the mere thought of it. Maybe that place isn’t geographical – maybe it’s in the eyes or the arms of those from whom you’ve been separated during this strange and challenging year we’ve been living through. We all know what it means to miss hugging the people we love, and to miss gathering with friends and like minds around the things we love, like music and art and food, and connection.

I really miss those crystalline moments in which I’m able to create those unique experiences on a stage in a venue with friends and strangers alike, swimming in that beautiful alchemy that is only possible in live performance. There, there are no edits, no take-backs, no second chances. It’s a kind of high wire act that, if performed with levity and love, is the most magical thing I’ve ever experienced.

I’m so grateful to get a taste of that magic this week, celebrating the musical traditions of a place I love with people that I love just as much, and for the opportunity to share what we pull out of our hats. I really enjoy the emotions that a single photograph can inspire!

‘We will enjoy our walk without thinking of arriving anywhere.’

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Shawn quipped this past week: ‘Punxsutawney Phil came out of his hole and said, “Winter is finally here!”’ And that sure seems right—here in New Hampshire, anyway—and so for the first time since last winter, we got our snowshoes out of the garage and onto our cabin-feverish feet.

There’s an area near our home that is privately owned and welcoming to folks on skis, snowshoes, and snow machines, so we made our way over to this wooded heaven for an afternoon this week.

I’d almost forgotten how much I enjoy doing this! Crunch crunch crunch through the quiet woods, the breath coming and going, no rigid plan, only to make each step follow the next one, and the next one, pausing to take in the smooth, light gray bark of a beech tree, or the fresh tracks of an ambitious squirrel, or the soft sighing of the wind moving through pine boughs overhead. In these woods, the world becomes a black and white photograph rendered in countless shades of stunning gray, setting in stark, beautiful contrast those same whispering evergreens and a few leftover yellowing leaves that still cling to and rattle against sagging limbs.

Snowshoeing brings to mind one of the most beautiful teachings from Thich Nhat Hanh:

‘We will walk. We will only walk. We will enjoy our walk without thinking of arriving anywhere.’

Though I am longing to return to the ‘before-times’ reality of touring in warmer climates during the winter months, I am also feeling so grateful to be able to connect so deeply to the unique, peaceful joy of the New England woods in winter—and only a few paces from my own backyard.