Years ago, in the days when I preferred to tap on an Olympia manual typewriter fed with canary yellow paper, I wrote out this passage attributed to the Koran:
Said Jesus Son of Mary (peace be on him): The world is but a bridge—pass over without building houses on it. He who hopes for an hour hopes for eternity; the world is an hour—spend it in prayer for the rest is unseen.
I’ve had those words taped to the wall of my room in every house I’ve inhabited, and from house to house their meaning has shifted, as if the passage itself is a bridge supporting no one interpretation, but home to the tent camp of ideas that mark our passage (a different sort of passage) through life. But today, as our third foot of snow falls, my eyes come to rest on the rest is unseen. The ground is gone. Even the sky is gone. Instead, there’s something above us unfurling shrouds of snow, and the earth floor rises up to meet it. Closer and closer come earth and sky. We all look legless. Heads, arms, torsos hovering above chilly whiteness, our bottom halves buried in steep snowbanks. It’s a thick, stalled, stuck-in-place river and we’re out in it, fishing for what we don’t know. Or wading out to serenade someone—a late sleeper; a weary number-cruncher working from home. Then someone shuffles by, walking on water, just because they found the perfect pair of snowshoes at that yard sale last summer and had the good sense to plunk down a six-dollar (bargained down from ten) investment in their future. Three bucks each shoe, they point out. Someone else has their own Iditarod going, a border collie on a long leash towing them on a dinner tray through the fluffy ashes of the storm.
How easy it is to make friends when the snow falls. A gang of three women roams the neighborhood, armed with shovels. I join them and that makes four. The man on the corner cranks up his snowblower and puts the women out of business, but when the snow keeps falling we’re out there again, clearing driveways, revealing sidewalks, making things manifest. It’s like a baby’s game of peek-a-boo: the blanket’s up, the face is hidden; the blanket’s down and there we are, where we’ve always been but seemed not to be. When the snow makes the world disappear, it emboldens us and we come forward. Have you noticed how the shy ones blossom from behind their masks?
My friend, Lynne, notices things, antelope in particular. But other things as well. She has an uncanny sense of who’s out there behind the trees, or under the rocks. She’ll pick up a stone and turn it in her hand until even I can see it was tooled, an incomplete arrowhead discarded for some flaw eight-hundred years ago. When we walk together, my web of noticing increases.
The last time we went up on the Peaks we were taking our chances. It was October, just a hair before the first expectation of in-town flurries. The trail was clear to the saddle, but along the ridge to the summit the snow was deep in places. Windblown, it edged down the mountain on both sides of the trail. At one point, to catch our breath under the guise of simply admiring the view, we stopped and looked out at the triumvirate of Kendrick, Sitgreaves and Bill Williams. Suddenly, a movement in our near field of vision pulled our attention in. The creature was ten or fifteen yards from us, a sinuous bounder of an animal, the size and shape of a mink but pure white. Its disguise was ingenious, and we could only imagine it was perfectly timed for the recent snowfall. As it moved across the rocks it looked like the ground itself was heaving. Only its dark little eyes and whiskers gave it away.
Unseen. The long-tailed weasel’s life depends on becoming invisible. In the mysterious way of things, some unknown amount of time before the first snow ever appears, the creature’s coat turns from brown to white and the disguise is complete. The animal itself is a prayer. And its wondrous life-sustaining disguise, met by our ability to notice—a prayer. This is a good way, isn’t it, to spend the hour we are given?
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