I took a moment on a regular weekday morning, a morning when much of the state was preparing for one of our first winter storms of the season, to find some magic in the winter.
I knew just where to go to find it. A place that was set aside just for us when we need magic moments like these.
The Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
It’s right in my backyard really. I’ve shown you before. It’s just down the road from the office that was waiting for me to take phone calls, finish some reports, and stay caught up. But it was snowing ever so lightly, frost was hugging the branches of the trees and the wind was calm enough to for me to hear something calling me out to explore, to look, to listen.
I needed to see what it looked like out there in its winter outfit.
I needed to listen for silence because in the absolute quite, everything inside of me quiets too.
I needed quiet.
I needed quiet enough to remember that I was in there all along. I needed quiet to tell me I was in there with all of that noise and static and voices drowning out the sound of those young deer on the trail ahead of me, cutting a path with their hooves, leaping over fallen branches and stopping to check out that creature behind them in a puffy coat and mittens. They don’t miss a thing and if I hadn’t stepped off of the road and up that hill, if I wouldn’t have stepped softly, slowly, I certainly would have missed them.
I don’t know what it is about being alone in nature. I write about it often. I dream about places not yet discovered, about trails that have been untouched by human feet. I don’t know anything except for it heals me in some way. I know that being alone under the branches of the oaks or the arms of the big cedars awakens something in me and reminds me that not only am I alive, but completely insignificant in the grand scheme of it all.
But that word doesn’t scare me. It thrills me. It thrills me to know that one charge of the mighty bison, one stomp of his hoof, could send me reeling.
It excites me to know my limits out there and to know to keep to them. To know the dangers of a mis-step could send me into a catastrophic fall.
To know the river flows fast under the ice and I have no matches for a fire and no intention of staying out past my allotted time.
To know that once we belonged here, but not anymore.
Because somewhere along the line we have separated from nature, from the quiet spaces on an earth that was laid out for us. We covered ourselves from the stars to survive, laid floor on the dirt and found new ways of making things that were good and true and simple damn complicated.
We’ve built fences and staked claim to things like rocks and mountains and grass. We have named it all. Dissected it. Studied why anything would turn out the way it has.
We’ve learned how it all could benefit us. How it could help us cure diseases, build more skyscrapers, heat our homes and reach us closer to the satellite we have placed among the stars in a sky we have yet to conquer.
So I go to the park, I take the back roads, I follow the trails on the ranch that holds my family’s name to be reminded of this:
I know not a fraction of what the acorn knows. I will never tame the wind nor will I ever touch all that the breeze has touched. I will never listen close enough to hear what the coyotes hear. I will never be as brave and howl my life into the night.
I count the striations of the exposed earth on a landscape that was formed by tons and tons of moving glacial ice and I know I will never have a story that grand. I will never be as interesting or romantic as those buttes.
I catch a hawk circling above the tree tops and am reminded I will never soar. I will never see our world the way she sees it.
And I won’t possess the strength of the bison, the authority of the season, the power of the sun and the clouds. I will never stand as tall, or know the patience of the old birch trees. And I will never own the delicate strength of the wildflower.
No, I come to the park as a spectator. I come to the park as a girl. A girl who has hands that need gloves made of leather and boots made with fur. I girl with thoughts and ideas and dreams about how to capture this place, how to share it by telling the story of the bison, singing the music of the hawk, and whispering just as softly as the doe caught on my trail.
But they are stories I am not worthy to tell.
So I stay quiet and listen.