We went snowshoeing again today. We intended to get up and go early in the day. Somehow the day filed by and is our habit it was late afternoon when we left; the time when the light changes from day to night, but before the world knows that it is happening.
As winter makes it crawl toward spring the quality of the light changes and the days grow longer. The light fades to night an hour later than it did only weeks ago. As evening falls you can watch the sun reach across the mountains touching each rock and tree with its last gentle brush of light as if it was tucking the earth into bed with the promise of seeing her in the morning after a restful night’s sleep.
On this day, before the sun kissed its children goodnight, we went to our favorite trail knowing that the snow falls deep and stays long in the high places. The snow had the perfect consistency of a cold day with bright sun that turns the top layer of the snow into a thin tea biscuit under which is fluffy, creamy snow so light that it cannot be pressed into a ball.
It took a long time to get our our gear on since we are still unfamiliar with the things replaced from the fire. We wrestle with new gloves and wonder if we have different ones than those in our hands. We pat ourselves looking for pockets in unfamiliar jackets. We stare at our clothes as if a veil of fog attends us.
New snowshoes came in January. After years of tossing our snowshoes in the back of our old red Subaru not worried about getting them mixed up, we now have to look and discuss whose shoes are whose and which way they go, left or right. We struggle with bindings as if we have no experience at all. Our old familiar ones, like the 15 year old red Subaru in which they rode, had wandered far together. Both car and snowshoes were consigned to the fire whose hungry flames ate away our familiarity.
As we headed up the trail my spouse said, “Sophie is on a familiar trail.” Her behavior was different. She was not checking to see what had passed by before our arrival. She was racing around to see how things had fared since we were last there. She was a blur moving among the rocks and the trees and the summer grasses still sanding having been turned blond in the fall sun before being arranged by the winter snow.
We stood musing on familiarity and realized that we all were on familiar trail. Familiarity is still not common for us now. When we encounter it we cannot help but notice it. It imparts a feeling of security at the same time as it does wistfulness for past times when we did not know what a gift familiarity was.
Familiarity was at our feet. On that strip of land that is the trail we have collected together 15 years of memories. We have walked without talking, we have talked hardly walking, we have cried in grief for the loss of loved ones that passed from this world to the next. We have celebrated babies being born, jobs being begun or left. And we have made decisions there, decisions that we have lived with and learned that they were good.
As the years passed we have grown close to each rock, each tree, each bend in the trail. We have hundreds of photos of the same trees because year after year we think they more beautiful than the last. We stop and savor them, taking photos and drinking in the glory of the mountains around us. We compare photographs from one year to the next and can scarcely tell the differences year by year.
What we learned this past year is that even if they don’t look different, each year they are the most beautiful. We learned that each year in that hallowed familiarity that they, and we, see each new season, we consecrated by the turning of time.