|3 yrs. old|
We walked heads down into the icy wind, my brothers and I, across a mile of barren wheat field under a lead gray sky. The expanse was a whitewashed playing field we could roam undisturbed for hours. At the far end of the field was a long drainage ditch, and on our hike across the field, we stopped to place pieces of graham crackers that had broken off in our pockets at the openings of muskrat holes. With snow welded to our mittens and our pockets stuffed with snacks, the day stretched out like miles before us. The only rule of the day was be back for supper. Of course we had no watches, but could sense and feel when it was time to turn back towards home.
The drainage ditch, filled with arching cattails in the fall, was smothered with four feet of soft powdery snow in early winter; the mere sight of it a treat to our creative energies. One by one, we jumped with abandon into the untouched mounds. Like off the diving board at the public pool, we leaped cannonball style, landing softly with a quiet muffled thud. Gingerly we crawled out to higher ground, careful not to disturb the integrity of each hole and causing a cave-in. Exhausting the length of the ditch we jumped and jumped until, like a strand of beads laid end to end, our string of hovels was complete.
Inside one hole the three of us gathered, digging it larger and packing the sides to fit our bundled bodies. The energy of huddling created a cozy warmth, and pressed shoulder to shoulder, we talked excitedly about our newly created fort. Biting balls of ice off our mittens and eating crumbled peanut butter cookies wrapped by our mother in waxed paper, we sat in relative comfort, our voices thick in the dense air. Far above us, wisps of white clouds slipped across the gray winter sky.
Later we split up, one person to a hole. Within moments, I became restless and felt conspicuously alone. I called to my oldest brother but he couldn’t hear me two holes down, his name simply didn’t reach. Then the fear set in. Several years later, I'd feel that fear again, when I was six and a neighbor friend delivered me back home after a weekend away at their summer cottage on Lake Michigan. It was the first time I had been apart from my family overnight, and I had adjusted well, until I got home. The house was empty and pin-drop quiet, and it was as if my parents and three siblings had simply vanished from the face of the earth (they were next door; no need for alarm) Still, for a brief moment, I felt abandoned and alone. There was silence where I could only feel me, only hear me. Being alone was scary.
Though the unfamiliar fear of silence grew around me, I stayed put. Having learned how to avoid the label of ”cry baby” by my brothers, a manipulation they often used to prevent me from tattling on them or to toughen me up, I chose instead to be brave.
Rather than running from the silence, I sank into it. Eventually I became aware of the muffled sounds of my mittens brushing against my wool coat, the huff of my breath going in and out, and beat of my heart. If I were still enough, I almost heard nothing. It didn’t take long to realize that I rather enjoyed the experience. Nowhere in my small world was there a place this quiet and still; noise was constant and everywhere. The sound of TV variety shows in the background, the thump of bare feet on wooden stairs, the barking of dogs at night. Even in church there was commotion. Babies screeched; people coughed and cleared their throats, harsh organ music blared. The silence, here, was to be cherished.
About the time my attention wandered to the cold seeping in around my shoulders, my eldest brother, on watch for my welfare, poked his head into the opening and with a bit of irritation asked, “What are you doin’? How come you’re not comin’ out?”
After hours of rigorous play tired and hungry, we trudged back to our pink brick house on the dead-end street that bordered the snow-covered wheat field. That day in my self-made fort, a contrast had been noted, a small seed planted under my radar of everyday awareness. There is an inner silence I can tap into that can be experienced anytime and anywhere; a place that is calming and grounding even in the midst of commotion and noise. There's no need to block out the silence; it's joyful, expansive and not the least bit scary.
I'm thinking of this today because it's a snow day. The trees are shawled with snow; the kids are sledding down their steep driveway (yay...no school) and a neighbor hums by on his snowmachine while I dig myself out of my quiet hovel of a home. We are WINTER PEOPLE, and today is a SNOW DAY. Hallelujah.
|2 more kids would arrive later|