Saturday, March 3, 2007

You Can’t Have a Real Spring Without Winter

Since I’ve already confessed to you that I am God’s sled dog, and that watching a sled dog race is a near mystical experience, it will not surprise you that since earliest childhood, I have had deeply spiritual feelings about snow. This may seem strange since I have lived all my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place where it absolutely and pointedly does not snow. Not only does it not snow, but people hammer in this fact all the time. I have experienced legions of people telling me that I should be grateful to live where I do, that I don’t know what I’m talking about when I wish for snow. But these people forget that the image of the American landscape in my childhood was not California. California may be the capital of the image driven world today, but when I was little, the image of real life was Eastern or Midwestern and at every turn, calendars, magazines and television depicted a world very different from the one I in fact inhabited. Winter was a time of silence and white, of miraculous cardinals and the shiver of bells, a time when great brooding storms brought all our stupid busyness to a crashing halt. I wanted to halt, too. I knew that you can’t have a real spring without winter any more than you can have Easter without Lent.

Now, none of the wise ones recommend complaining, but sometimes, speaking up can have surprising results. Because I was so morose as a child that we didn’t have snow, my parents took pity on us. We started going to Yosemite between Christmas and New Years. We rented winter clothes and stayed in adjoining cabins at Camp Curry. We didn’t go to the snow to do anything in particular; no one in my family skis or engages in any of the expensive winter sports favored by Bay Area families. We just experienced winter. We took long walks up and down the Valley and always up to the base of Vernal Falls. We visited Badger Pass and spent hours ice skating on the Curry rink. These were always happy times, a pause in the endless difficulties of being a family during the 1960's and early 1970's. Yosemite healed my heart and soul as only a place of power can.

And then I grew up. Adulthood, with all its cares, set in. Ronald Reagan took office and business went back to business as usual. The magic of the local blurred as more and more people took advantage of mass travel opportunities far beyond a nearby national park. During the 80's one was just as likely to receive a Christmas card from Hawaii or the Carribean or even China as from New England. As Ronald Reagan put California on the map, winter-weary Americans moved out of the northeast and into the sun belt, and so, except for occasional winter visits with friends, snow melted away from my inner landscape.

Or so I thought.

But in the winter of 1996, my mother invited us all with our spouses and children back to Yosemite Valley. We arranged to meet at Camp Curry, now Curry Village on December 29 for a two night stay. I had not been back since 1974.

The drive up was through a steel gray landscape, but otherwise things were dry and clear. And then we hit the valley. The change was dramatic. Dryness gave way to snow. As far as the eye could see, the landscape was blanketed with white. Four foot drifts rose on both sides of the sanded and ploughed roads. Although air temperature hovered in the balmy 20's, the presence of three foot drifts chilled us from below. I had forgotten what it felt like to be cold. For some reason, all this cold reminded me of the ancient monks of Scotland and Ireland, wintering by the North Sea and raising their arms to God in prayer. For them, cold was part of God’s rich plan. I decided to follow their example and use this time to talk to God.

All the same, I was deeply surprised when God used this time to talk to me.

On the night of December 28-29, 1996, as a mass of warm, moist air drifted across the Pacific, I had a dream visitation that shook up my entire world. Part of this vision (and I’ll share other parts as we go along) involved seeing the earth through what felt almost like God’s eyes. In my vision, earth was a living woman, being skinned alive by men who could not hear her scream.

My heart broke into a million pieces when I saw the truth of which I was a part. I gave thanks to the cold for freezing the heat of my passions. Two days later, the warm air hit and melted everything, plunging what was once a dormant valley into active, restless flood.

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