Winter Solstice: the start of a season that came in early, as it so often has (though less often lately). The darkest day of the year, and in dark times. Yet also, halfway out of the darkness. From here, as the winter settles over the landscape, we are just waiting for the Spring and new growth.
Yet I love the contrasts of winter. The bitter winds and deep snow bury the landscape, making everything at once more dynamic and more still. The woods seem deeper, and yet more welcoming. The mountains seem higher, and yet more fulfilling. The cold is chilling, but invigorating.
I met a wonderful man from Iran the other day, and he told me that his family celebrates the new year in the Spring—when everything is new and reborn; when celebration is warranted and longed for. In this country, we celebrate the new year in the dark.
Yet, I think the dark times make everything more meaningful. Only that which is most firmly itself can carry through.
Image Credit: My own
Sometimes it’s hard to see past an end point, but there’s always something after. The scars of what happened before never truly become invisible, especially if you know how to look for them. Yet, sometimes looking at what things used to be obscures our understanding of what they now are. The damage looks overwhelming if that is all you see, but it also harbors new growth and new opportunities.
I wasn’t thinking those things when I saw this cut stump a few weeks ago, with a delightful ecosystem of renewal developing in its core. Yet, the juxtaposition of dying and growing was still compelling enough to stop for a picture.
With a few weeks’ context, I’m forced to hold damage and possibility side by side in a way I haven’t recently remembered to. Now, I am trying to remind myself that the unearthing of old wounds can also be a chance for new growth. Yes, we can stand and lament the harm done, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But we can also appreciate the chance for something better. The two may be inseparable.
Life doesn’t happen in isolation, nor, I think, would we ever want it to.
Image Credit: My Own
When I go into caves, I think a lot about the juxtaposition of time. Travel on the surface is nearly effortless by comparison. To reach this point, a point never seen by human beings before us, we had to put in days of effort digging out the constrictions in the passages between, returning to the same project over months and gaining a few feet every day.
Even now, when the only limits that will stop you are your own, to reach this point is not easy. You must climb, crawl for hundreds of feet, negotiate vertical drops on and off rope, endure cold water and gritty mud, and make your way slowly through passages that few people ever have.
These passages that developed for their own purposes, none of which involve people. The floors are uneven. The ceilings are irregular, and often low. The walls are carved into alien shapes. The air is dusty and damp. Streams occupy the space insistently. A person may coexist with these things, but there is no illusion that you are an important part of such a place.
The juxtaposition of time is that to reach the place where I took this photo, we traveled in the cave for over an hour. There is approximately 150ft of solid rock above this place, and then trees, and then sky. If you begin at the entrance and travel to the nearest point on the surface, it is 150ft away, and it takes you only three minutes. But that last 150ft might as well be a mountain between the two.
While scouting for cave entrances, we found a way down into a deep canyon. At the bottom, a large entrance doubled back under some fallen rocks. The mix of daylight and darkness was enticing, which prompted this photo, but because it was a scouting trip, we didn’t go any farther. The cave continues in through some fallen rocks and drops down past some debris to a small hole. Through that hole is a canyon passage at least twenty feet high, but to get in we’ll have to move a few rocks.
So, for now, it is unexplored. Certainly unexplored by our survey team; perhaps unexplored by any human being.
In wandering mountains, forests, and caves, I can’t help but take pictures. Some of them I’m more proud of, and some less, and some are learning opportunities (just like the rest of life, I suppose). But since I have less time to write than I’d like, and I always have photos, I’ve decided to share my favorite from the past month.
I happened upon this spot in late morning, just off the trail on my way back from a hike over Beech Mountain in Acadia National Park. The spruce forest created a deep shade, but the granite cliff with its associated small talus pile demanded a few small gaps in the canopy. Meanwhile, a capricious fog hugged the south side of the island, held back from further incursion by park’s coastal peaks, and the morning sun had climbed high enough to pass the banks farther out to sea.
I reached this place at the same time as the fog and the sun, but quite a bit behind the spruce and the granite.