“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Day 48: Mindful Winter Walking

Yesterday when Zoe and I were across the river heading home from our walk, she stopped to study a young man ahead of us on the path.  He leaned against a tree and for a long time it seemed like he was looking for something in his pockets.  Then he took off his mittens and began a monkish walk; whether he meant to do it or not, he was doing walking meditation.  I have often imagined monks competing--although I know it's not very zen to imagine a race--to see who can walk the slowest, lowering each food down in stages: heel, arch, pads, then one toe at a time.  The young man walked just like this in his big, well-treaded black boots.  It was the first day of classes, he was dressed in his winter best, and he didn't want to fall down and spend the semester limping or in a cast.

We had an ice storm, then it snowed, then warm weather turned the snow layer to ice, then it warmed up until water was rushing off roofs and down sidewalks, and then that water froze again.  There's not much you can do about it but maybe buy clamp-ons to put over your shoes and boots, like one of my colleague has.  I'm tempted now.

I worried about two things for Zoe going into this winter as a tripod: deep drifts, and ice.  Sunday we walked for an hour with Cooper and Pat, and it was tough to avoid the ice.  By the end of that hour, Zoe was very tired.  She has to hop on her back leg and when it can't find purchase, she slides.  But she never seems to want to stop, not even to rest for a second.

Yesterday I realized that Zoe had figured out how to walk in this weather.  The path was sheer ice, and the young man did not make much progress on our watch, but Zoe led us to the snow-and-ice-on-grass-and-fallen-branches bits around but not on the path, and we made our way home safely.  She has learned to find the places that have enough texture and grit to hold her upright, and I go where she goes, if I can.

I just have to ask her, and she shows me where, and how.

Sometimes on tough days you just have to low ball it--it's a gold star day if you can stay upright, all day.  Of course I mean that metaphorically too.  I can see sometimes in a student's eyes that just getting out of bed and across campus into the overheated classroom took Herculean effort, and I want to say, Gold Star, you.  That was hard what you just did.  Winter makes us go to that deep, dark place, especially when the outside looks like the inside of a basement janitor's closet and the landscape is the color of the mop.

And I have a little problem with balance, literally.  In my thirties I went on a sprained ankle binge--three times, then four.  Yoga for me, especially a balance pose, is less about bliss than for physical therapy.  Last night when I did tree pose I could feel in my right leg that just the effort not to fall from the car to the street and around the back alley up to the yoga loft had already given that leg a workout.

I opened up my Thich Nhat Hanh, Your True Home, to this page, just before I started writing this morning, after a slapsticky slip-and-slide across my yard to the studio:
"Picture a tree in the storm.  At the top of the tree, the small branches and leaves are swaying violently in the wind.  . . . But if you look at the trunk, you will see that the tree is solid; and if you look down to its root structure, you will know that the tree is deeply rooted in the soil.  The tree is quite strong.  It can resist the storm.
 "We are also a kind of tree.  Our trunk, our center, is just below the naval.  . . . If we stay in the winds of the storm, it may be too dangerous.  We can go for refuge into the trunk, breathing in and out, aware of the rising and falling of our abdomen.

In yoga class last night I tried to balance myself from my own trunk, using my core muscles, and sometimes I succeeded, sometimes not.

At home after yoga class, coming in from the garage, I made the mistake of crossing the yard through the grass.  The warmer temperature and the heavy rain had washed a lot of ice off the path, but the lawn was now a big block of ice.  After a lot of sliding, swaying, then righting myself, I gave up.  I got down on all fours.  I crawled across that sheer, slick ice until I was home, laughing the whole way.

I told my husband about this at dinner, and when he took Zoe out for her last pee before bed, he said she sat on the deck for a full minute surveying the scene.  She wasn't sure if it was a good idea to go out there.  But then, he said, she spotted the few remaining bits of textured snow and ice, those complex, layered surfaces, and deftly made her way out and back.

1 comment:

  1. clamp-ons. To keep up with Zoe.
    I've seen pics of dog booties. I wonder if they are textured on the bottom? Your smart dog, looking before she leaps.