Seasons, Part 1 - Winter of the Soul
Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, might just be the perfect mountain. It boasts gorgeous trails which live up to their names and a bald top with an incredible 360 degree view. And, it's challenging enough to make you feel like you earned it!
If you're ever inspired to hike this gem, try parking at the Old Toll Road parking lot and going by way of Mossy Brook Trail. In late spring, with it's babbling brooks and incredible greenery, it is nothing short of a magical fairyland paradise. Exactly as you'd expect a trail with a name like that to be.
And, to top it off, it's less than an hour and a half away from Boston. When I'm longing for a mountain which involves a serious climb and rewards you with breathtaking scenery, but don't have the time to drive all the way to the whites, Monadnock never disappoints. On a warm summer day, the large strains of quartz running through the rocky terrain and the fool's gold scattered along the trail twinkle in the reflected light. Mount Monadnock truly glitters in every season.
I can say this with surety because I hiked it in winter for the first time this year. It was cold! But we were not deterred.
Prepared for icy conditions and biting winds, we piled on the layers. We put on our gloves, scarves, and hats, strapped on our microspikes, grabbed our poles, and made our way up a trail which was unrecognizable in this unfamiliar season.
My partner and I had the trail to ourselves for most of our trek. This is the beauty of off-season hiking. We'd occasionally pass another hard-core hiker, acknowledging them with a friendly nod and smile. But for most of our journey, we were free to truly immerse ourselves in the deep stillness that can only be felt in the winter woods.
The bare branches of sleeping trees were stark against the pale blue of a cold winter sky. Small patches of brown earth peeked out from under the blanket of snow with the evergreens providing the only bits of color in this white-washed terrain. We hiked up trails which were rivers of ice, undulating yet motionless as they glittered and sparkled in the winter sun.
We hiked together in silence for much of the afternoon, moving slowly through unearthly beauty, swathed in unearthly silence. In other seasons, the woods are full of the sounds of birds, critters and, in a place as popular as Monadnock, the laughter of people scrambling over rocks and crunching through leaves. But on this day there was nothing but our muffled steps and sound of wind whistling above the treeline. Even the sweet, rich scent of earth and pine was covered by a blanket of snow, leaving us with nothing but the fresh, sharply clean scent of winter air.
I was thoughtful as we hiked through this frozen beauty, so different from the energetic hum of spring, or the languid sensuality of summer. Winter is the time when the world rests, so that it can be restored. It is a time for quiet, for reflection; it is a chance to look within. The leafless trees are not dead, merely sleeping, healing and recharging in order to burst forth with new potential come spring.
There is wisdom in these frozen rivers of ice, sparkling in the reflected light of the winter sun. We cannot have the creative energy of flowers, butterflies and birdsong without the restorative hush of winter.
In the frantic chaos of modern life, we go, go, go. Working hard, playing hard, succeeding, struggling, striving for something ever out of reach. Perhaps we have forgotten who we are, yet despite our amnesia, we are of nature. We are part of the great cycle of birth, death and renewal. We are one with the dance of the seasons. As disconnected from our roots as we are in our modern lives, it is no wonder we are successful but stressed, busy but unhappy, always looking for the next thing to fill the hole. Yet everything we need is already within us.
Just as we are the energetic song of spring, so are we the frozen tranquility of winter. We can only harness the creative power of spring and revel in the pleasure of summer, if we take time to rest in the soundless healing of winter. It is the lesson of the seasons and I see it reflected in icy mirrors as I move along the trail.
What would happen if we truly leaned into the silence and solitude?
This energetic ebb and flow of movement and rest, of creation and regeneration might happen within a day or it might play out over several weeks or months, even years. But wherever I am, whether I am dancing and spinning in the energy of spring or healing in the restorative winter of the soul, I know that I am of nature. Everything I need is within, if I stay still long enough to sense it.
And I am exactly where I need to be.