WEEK FOUR has been white, white, white; this part of winter heavy under its own weight of wild wonder; full of blizzards, bleakness, blustery squalls, the type of weather that gets into every nook and cranny and I feel submerged and struggling in the endless snow.
I walk out and wander without motive, unable to move up to the higher slopes where I know the deer will be, confined to the pistes. Content to head out, head dipped. Half an hour of walking and I am as white as the woods. The most perfect quiet; snowflakes falling gently on my face and eyelashes, I move slowly in honour of this new world, senses taking over, straining my ears to hear anything in the muffled space. The temperature seems to be hovering at zero with the snow sometimes changing to rain, I feel this subtlety, counting the flakes per minute falling. Today, white is the only thing on my mind and in my eyes. Nothing else has been given form or meaning yet. With the storm last night, every inch of forest has been snow-blasted. Each little niche – the ones that would have provided shelter for animals and birds; little havens of earth and moss – has now been covered with flurries of deep white. There is nowhere to hide; everything remains hidden.
Bent over, leaning into flurries, my eyes stay fixed to the ground. This becomes a meditation, a walking mantra. Although the snow encloses this landscape in a blanket of safety and expansive silence, I have not seen many tracks today. I sense a hesitancy this afternoon; the fox is finding it hard to traverse the deep flurries, the marten bounding over drifts that bury him completely. The world seems to have stopped in its tracks.
Becoming entranced by the patterns in the snow; I slip into another language – trace the marks of flurries moulded by the movement of wind, read the stationery snow that has had time to settle in small protected gullies, decipher in other places, the imprints of tiny dimples of rain.. This would be a textile designer’s dream. Thirty years ago, I would have spent hours with the rich inspiration to be found in this landscape, filling sketchbooks and pages with drawings and notes. I would have made a deep study of White-upon-White; tracking the movement of tone and texture across the fabric’s surface, the subtle nuances between different yarns holding no other colour but white. I could have laid a myriad of ideas across my warp, set up to mirror what I found out here, moving through the obvious into intricacies and subtleness that only things like light on fabric and snow can illuminate.
I once went to see an exhibition of Robert Rauschenberg’s paintings in London. Every single one of them was white. Some were small, others larger but all white; he had used no other colours. I remember thinking as I walked through the door into the gallery, that I had actually parted with good money to see these paintings. I stopped to watch people looking at the walls and had a distinct sense of Emperor’s New Clothes come over me. These people had also paid good money to come and look at white paintings, scrutinising them at length; looking from afar and close up as if they were by Hieronymus Bosch. I thought that this was all quite crazy. What were they looking at? This couldn’t be Art, could it?. I walked around the gallery looking at white painting after white painting and it was only when my mind started to settle that I was able to understand exactly what I was looking at. I started to notice the edges of the paintings, the way the paint layered on the canvases, I saw the textures and brushstrokes and I started to pay attention to the nuances of wall upon which the paintings were hanging. Then I realised that I was starting to look at the whole gallery in a different way. Suddenly, I saw everything apart from the white canvas and I saw that everything was not part of the canvas; all the intricacies of the room I normally would have ignored suddenly came to life. The Art had become the Art of Looking; a grand education for me and something I would never forget. Those paintings had shown me how to really see the world and how to rest my gaze upon the nuance, subtlety and therefore aliveness of everything around me.
I feel the same when I look, really look into the snow right now.
When we fill up our spaces with busyness, (both our heads and our immediate environments) we fail to see beyond the obvious, fail to see through the thing that shouts the loudest at us – we fail to notice the intricacies and subtle messages that life is giving us. We are no longer able to read the meaning in snow or sense the energy fields around a person or tree. In one of these photographs alone, I have no doubt that a traditional Yupik or Inuit would be able to name at least one or two of their fifty-two forms of snow. To me snow is ‘snow’, even though I am now taking my time to look and see the differences.
I am trying to create my own dictionary of White even though there is a tendency to want to keep the sheets completely clean. When the wind dances on your skin from a certain direction, you know and understand what it means. When snowflakes catch upon your lashes in a particular way, you understand what they are trying to tell you. Where the fox has gone delicately before you, you know his journey in your nostrils, when you hear a muffled squawk deep in the woods, you understand the movement of the deer without the need for sight. When you feel the solidity of the snow underneath you subtly changing from one footstep to the next, you understand the lay of the land with your feet, Layer upon layer of meaning rests over everything, if we only learn how to use our senses to understand it.
Words are not needed as long as you can feel all of this in your heart.
As I lift my head from the trance-like state I have induced whilst peering at the snowy canvas, I see two deer trot across the piste a way in front of me, the forest swallowing them up as quickly as it has exposed them. It is perfect. I move up to where they slipped between the trees to find the trail they left. The falling snow is filling their tracks by the minute, soon both animals and footprints will be far gone. I look into the holes left by the deer’s feet and see a deeper shade of white underneath the surface – blueish in its pristine cleanness. The blank canvas comes alive and I see beyond it. For a few minutes, emerging from Whiteness comes Blue, not just any shade of blue but a blue I think the Inuit would have a specific word for: ‘the blue that comes suddenly from the snow that lies in the wake of a deer’s fresh footfall‘, it is a blue that inhabits no other word but this; even though I have yet to discover it. The word feels lost in an ancient language my tongue knew how to speak eons ago when I was deeply part of the land and the land could deeply speak to me. The word dances and springs across the piste as if it were itself alive. All too soon it is gone, it moves in the same direction as the deer, up onto the higher ground that I, standing in my modern skin, thinking my modern thoughts, am not prepared to follow.
I must be content to continue my walk along the compacted and tamed snow of the piste instead, as apprentice to the language of snow and let the ancient ones disappear into the forest in peace.
I am an interspecies empath exploring human and animal understanding and connection. Come with me on a journey around the circle of the year, I am walking the land detailing my encounters out in the forest through animal tracking, bird language and nature awareness, with deeper musings on what it means to live authentically, in true connection and with sacred devotion to all life. My tracks will be published here on this blog every week, alternatively, you can receive them directly to your inbox in a series of Full-Moon Missives: