“Falling snow you say ełyoth,’it’s snowing.’
Big snow they call it gwx tthi chwx.
You know the snow is about this big [large, fluffy flakes].”
It’s snowing flakes the size of feathers, like a Big Bang of tundra swan down and I’m out there in it, moving deeper and deeper into a walking meditation, a sort of kinhin in the snow. What strikes me is the complete absence of sound. Other than my breath, which I keep forgetting, and my boots crunching under me, there is silence.
In the Pacific Northwest, where I live most of the year and where it rains more often than not, precipitation is a percussion instrument beating against our rooftops and windshields and parka hoods and, if we used them, umbrellas. And if wind is present the sound is wild and scraping and sometimes terrifying. But here, today, there is no wind other than my breath, which I’ve just remembered again.
As it brushes my face, I notice that snow weighs nothing, Yet, mounded up two or more feet on a hangar roof or an airplane wing snow is dangerous and needs to be brushed off. How long would it take to bury a woman if she just collapsed, fell asleep, forgot to breathe? I think about these things as I walk, instead of concentrating on my breath or some mantra like, “Snow-ing, el-yoth, snow-ing, el-yoth,” because my mind flutters like this feather snow, like I am the snow. Someday I must try this with a wooden fish, I think, which I heard is sometimes used in Chinese kinhin to produce a rhythm for the walker to follow. I see myself trekking though willows beating the fish (which up here would need to be a salmon, maybe painted copper to honor the river from which many are caught). I would beat the fish slowly so as not to trip in the snow.
Traditional Wooden Fish
But my rhythm is wabi sabi, and my focus breaks and breaks as I move along, distracted by objects on my path.
Are these messages?
“Be careful or you might get mugged!” “You’ve got too much Stacked up on your plate right now!” “People freeze to death out here. Go home this instant!”
My materialistic mind considers each as a potential possession. Nah!
My muse drops a short story into the muck: A coffee mug, a beer can and a glove smeared with DNA are vital clues in solving the mysterious death of a woman with a tiny bladder, bad knees and white hair last seen traipsing through snow-covered willows. Brilliant! Hey, maybe this kinhin thing is working, after all. Maybe, unlike the snow, my mind is starting to spiral toward the stars. Toward the aurora borealis!
I look up and notice that the snowing has stopped. Through the willows the pure white sky waits to dump it’s next batch of feathers down on this boreal world that Velma Wallis wrote about in Two Old Women. In that story, the two Athabaskan elder women who’ve been left behind by their starving tribe would have been out walking in the snow in a place like this. And their minds would’ve been totally focused, unlike mine, on staying alive, on hunting for a squirrel, a fox, a rabbit, anything to eat. They would’ve a kept it moving until they found safe place to set up their fur and spruce shelter. They would have started a fire, peed in the bush, and most certainly they would have picked up the mug, the beer can and the glove, those gifts in the snow that I might only turn into fiction because I’m so incredibly fortunate.
Buddha in the Snow: https://twitter.com/englangglos
Evelyn Alexander quote: http://ankn.uaf.edu/Curriculum/Athabascan/ObservingSnow/exploring.html
Featured image: “Wintry Kinhin” http://www.brzen.org/Kinhin.html