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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

An unexpected gift from Old Man Winter

Kathleen McQuillen
Posted 11/17/21

What is it about the first snow? It always conjures a certain feeling, especially when accompanied by moonlight. This year’s version arrived rather unexpectedly when it dumped over six inches …

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An unexpected gift from Old Man Winter


What is it about the first snow? It always conjures a certain feeling, especially when accompanied by moonlight. This year’s version arrived rather unexpectedly when it dumped over six inches of snow in the first few hours following a heavy rain that measured close to an inch before temperatures dropped below freezing. The result? A heavy blanket of wet snow on a previously saturated surface.
The English language isn’t noted for having a rich lexicon describing such snowy conditions, unlike the Inuit-Yupic having 40 to 50 words for snow or the winter weather vocabulary of Scotland with its estimated 400 words or more! So, apologies for my simple concoction, “mushy-slushy stuff”.
At dawn’s early light, last Thursday morn, Little Duff woke me with his signal-scratching at the door. Time to let him out to do his business. Usually, I’m eager to suit up for our early morning trek. We get to see if anything interesting has gone on overnight, and if timed just right, a chance to catch a colorful sunrise. So, into the semi-darkness we stepped, clueless as to the conditions awaiting us.
Alas, cold wet snow breached my boot tops. Every path with a destination, whether the woodshed, chicken coop, garden, or outhouse, was completely obliterated by balsam branches and willow brush, bent to the ground and frozen there by heavy clumps of icy snow. I struggled to lead the way while Duffy followed close at my heels. Occasionally, he’d step out from my tracks and experience the sudden shock of freezing cold against his little bare belly. And the more he jumped and swirled, the more falling snow would shower down upon him. I soon figured out that we could go no further without first clearing the trails of these arching icy barricades. We turned around, making our way back to the house. I grabbed the lopping shears and snow shovel, then returned on assignment.
Progress was slow. This snow, with its high water content, weighed a lot! So, I lopped the path and dug our way along half-shovel full by half-shovel full. During projects like this, memories inevitably surface of people, past and present, who I miss. This morning, I recalled my dear neighbor, Louie. He had his own interesting way to describe his world, including our northern Minnesota array of winter conditions. Some probably accumulated from previous generations while others were of his own creation over the course of his long life farming the land his parents had homesteaded. Were he still here, I bet he’d have tagged (in his authoritative style) this stuff as, “heart-attack snow”.
Once the paths were cleared, Duffy was free to let loose with the exuberance expressed by so many dogs with winter’s first snowfall! With unbridled delight, he raced full speed from building to building, only stopping briefly to catch his breath or sate his obsessive need to sniff. Pure pleasure!
I stood motionless, catching my own breath, cruising on his joy and absorbing the gorgeous wonder around me. The woods looked like something out of the Disney film, Fantasia. Spruce boughs hung low, swaying in the wind with an allure that filled me with a sense of magic. Suddenly, I was carried back to the scene where a room full of mops holding pails, came to life dancing like whirling dervishes. In my forest clearing, nature had created her own magical dance, capturing my imagination and transporting me to another place and time. I was awash in bliss and struck with awe! Then, just as suddenly, I was aware of Duffy at my side, nudging me to come back to earth and resume our journey.
As we trudged on, I kept reflecting on how I’d felt back there. Understandably, I’d been flush with adrenaline from working so hard shoveling. I knew that endorphins can trigger feelings of euphoria. And witnessing Duffy’s sheer delight could surely have enhanced all that. You know the saying, “Feelings are contagious.” And then there was the setting! The landscape was a pristine paradise with a sky sooo blue that I could almost hear my painting instructor softly uttering over my shoulder that “my sky was too blue”. But I knew that my experience was real. That state of complete joy, peace, and contentment was irrefutable. It suddenly dawned on me. I’d had a “peak experience”.
I first read about peak experiences in the early ’70s. Results of research on “mind-body” connections, “altered states of consciousness”, and comparison studies of eastern and western spiritual practices were in the news. Experiments with pharmacological substances, religious rituals, yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices were opening new doors to understanding brain function and how our minds work. Neuroscientific studies continue and with the aid of “imaging” technologies are making revolutionary new discoveries. Advances in communication technology, including the ubiquitous use of computers and access to the seemingly limitless information available on the internet, public knowledge and interest has also continued to increase — mine included.
This peak experience was not my first. Although not a frequent occurrence, each has been unforgettable, and left me with valuable meaningful insights. I am not a saint, a scientist, or a guru, so I believe that these kinds of experiences must be available to all of us. They’ve been reported to have occurred in a wide variety of settings and circumstances. And they seem to only require us to be still long enough to notice and open ourselves to our surroundings, able to experience the “extraordinary” amidst the mundane and the ever-present “calm” that exists amidst the chaos.
We can’t make them happen. Nor can we predict that they will. But these exquisite moments of consciousness seem to bring me closer to my true self and connect me with the universe’s creative force, of which we are all a part. They can guide me back toward my true course, a place of balance, and a heightened sense of compassion. They’ve provided a space to mend my spirit and offer safe refuge in a world that so often feels like it’s spinning out of control. With all the daily uncertainties that shake my very core, all I can say is, “I love when this happens!”


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