When I awoke this morning, I peered through the window and saw movement in the woods behind our house. As my vision cleared, I made out the outlines of two white-tailed deer.
Living in dense woods populated with hundred-foot pines, I am accustomed to coming upon these beautiful and gentle gray-brown animals, but it was a welcome surprise to observe them unannounced outside my bedroom window.
Even in winter, I dwell in a veritable zoo. Twenty wild turkeys congregate in my neighbor’s front yard. A family of geese lines up in single file and takes their time crossing the street, while an impatient driver honks to no avail.
Our bird feeder attracts a menagerie of fine-feathered friends, especially my favorite couple, the bright red Northern cardinal and his buffy-brown mate, who take turns nibbling delicately on the seeds.
We also feed many uninvited guests. A freeloading Eastern gray squirrel hangs upside down from the kennel fence just in reach of the bird seed, while our Jack Russell terrier growls beneath. The squirrel chatters and clucks as he overfills his mouth, puffing out his cheeks.
Finding the feeder empty, the brash blue jays complain.
Even with the constant companionship of these incredible creatures, I catch cabin fever in the middle of February and succumb to the seasonal malady. In deep winter, the house in the forest can feel confining after a glut of short, lackluster days with little sunshine. I start climbing the walls.
“Most of us, I thought, are caged in some way all our lives,” said Gladys Taber in “Country Chronicle.” “There are walls and bars and fences of all kinds, invisible but tangible. We spend a great deal of time climbing over obstacles – perhaps this is what life is all about. But we must all, I think, long for a brief time of real freedom outside the restrictions of our existence.”
Seeking escape, I yearn for open spaces, and I head to our summer place by the sea 40 minutes away. At the beach, the truck navigates over frozen tundra, the stretch of sand interrupted by occasional potholes brimming with icy shards.
The winter sun cannot penetrate the windshield to warm the small cabin, and when the wind whistles, it rocks the vehicle and sends shivers down my spine.
In discomfort with my arms wrapped tightly about me, I gaze at the steel gray seas that lure me away from the rigors of a New England winter and direct my thoughts to the beauty before me. I feel a calming presence as I realize there is so much greater than ourselves at work here.
“Not knowing how to feed the spirit, we try to muffle its demands in distractions,” said Anne Morrow Lindbergh in “Gift from the Sea.” “Instead of stilling the center, the axis of the wheel, we add more centrifugal activities to our lives – which tend to throw us off balance.”
The truck’s heater hums, and I slowly begin to thaw. The warm air circulates, and sitting in silence, I feel warmth radiating from within.
Seagulls stand together on the seashore, buffeting themselves against gale-force winds. The sea pulses with life, teeming beneath the waves.
The old Anglican hymn by Cecil F. Alexander comes to mind:
“All things bright and beautiful, / All creatures great and small, / All things wise and wonderful, / The Lord God made them all.”