“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].”

-Evelyn Alexander

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

14 thoughts on “Kinhin in the Snow

  1. The ways you attempt to communicate the absence of noise–how it penetrates through your own layers–brought forth by the wind from those aforementioned rainy climes. So many ways of being present–reminds of Wallace Stevens and those blackbirds.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Admittedly, I’d love some snow right now… all this rain and now white magic. I miss it. As for treasures found in the snow, perhaps the messages are different: Warmth and comfort, good spirits, holding hands….

    no news of #2 yet? I’ve had a feeling all day… xox

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’d love to send you some of our snow, Dawn. We have more than enough to go around. This morning I was blowing bubbles out on the deck because it was negative 25 and I wanted to see what would happen (they froze instantly and exploded), and also because little r was sick and I wanted to amuse him. I sank into at least 2 feet of the white stuff. That’s what amused r! I’ll send you some in an Igloo cooler.

    I love your interpretation of the messages. So romantic!

    Thanks for your comments!


  4. Susan, this is so lovely. You have such a gift for describing your observation with words that paint pictures and bring your readers inside your stories. Perhaps it’s because I love waling in snow – I could feel the feathery snow brush my cheek and hear the crunching sound of boots in an otherwise silent world. And then, you seamlessly weave in mysteries and stories from other cultures!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Carol. I’m quite taken by the magical realism of Interior Alaska: the light, the temperature, the flora and fauna, the people and their stories. How lucky I am to be in this place now. So pleased that you enjoy my writing.

      Liked by 1 person

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