“Travel by foot. There is so much you can’t identify at top speed.”
~Cheryl Strayed (from Brave Enough, pg. 76)
Not quite two weeks ago, we were bracing for a blizzard here in Virginia. Two weeks ago tomorrow, it hit – and by the time it let up late Saturday night, we were literally buried under three feet of snow!
Some early-Sunday morning shots:
We were lucky in that we had stocked up with food, and that everybody was healthy (because getting out for meds or to a doctor if we had needed either would have been next to impossible), and that we didn’t lose power or hot water or anything else that would have made us uncomfortable. You couldn’t drive anywhere; the roads were close to impassable (even if we could have gotten the car out of the parking lot – which as you can see from the above pics, was not happening! You couldn’t easily walk anywhere either. The snow was up to my knees, even on flat ground.
(Just to give some perspective to that, I’m 5’6! My poor six-year-old daughter started to bum out after a while, as she could only get around by following in her big brother’s footsteps and going wherever he went. Everything else had her falling over!)
Once it started snowing, we basically had no choice but to settle in and wait it out.
But you know what? That turned out to be one of the nicest experiences in my recent memory.
The reason has everything to do with that Cheryl Strayed quote above. It’s that we weren’t operating at “top speed” throughout the blizzard (and its aftermath.) We couldn’t. That level of push would have been ridiculous as there was nowhere to push to! We were forced – by circumstances…by nature itself – to live completely in the present, in the moment. We slowed down.
The whole world slowed down around us, really – which made it easy! There was a peacefulness, a quiet, a serenity that I haven’t felt in…I can’t remember when. You couldn’t help but respond to it.
And it was beautiful, too. The most familiar scenes – such as these below, which I see every day, as they’re just steps away from the door of my not-usually-very-interesting-looking suburban apartment building – looked different and interesting under that blanket of white and within all that stillness.
It was a special couple of days. I felt that as it was happening, but now, two weeks later and with the perspective of distance, I really see it.
It’s been almost two weeks now since the blizzard, and we don’t have much left of it (amazingly, when I look at these pictures!) A few of the bigger plowed snow piles remain, but most everything else has melted away. We have a lot of mud!
And the overall vibe has returned to normal. Northern Virginia is very much a part of the greater-Washington, D.C. area, with all of the hustle and bustle of any busy urban center. Traffic is rushed, people are hurried, there’s work to be done, errands to run, things to do. Roles to play…people to be.
And I’ve fallen back into it too. I’ve resumed the daily grind of getting my kids to and from school and overseeing their homework. I’m back to plugging away at my work, painstakingly building on what so often feels like frustratingly slow movement toward where I want and need to go to meet my goals and self-expectations.
But it’s a little different, too. I’m finding that I can’t quite shake off the blizzard. That I don’t really want to!
It’s not that I’m pining so much for the cold or the snow – even as lovely as that snowy blanket was. And while it was interesting to be housebound for a few days, I don’t think I’d want that situation to go on for a long time.
No…it’s the less tangible experiences of the blizzard that I’m holding on to. It’s the way the days felt so unhurried, so serene, so peaceful. It’s about the way nature took total control of life for a few days and set a tone – a slowed-down, beautiful tone that felt good.
And it felt unusual. And I think maybe that’s part of the issue for me. I don’t want that feeling to be so unusual…so novel. Moving at the normal pace of life so often feels to me like skidding along at the surface of things. I want to go deeper. I want to live deeper.
And I did through the blizzard – because I slowed down.
Nature is a wonderful tool to reach for, in those moments when you need to slow down and connect – with yourself, with your environment. The blizzard reminded me of this.
But something big and dramatic (like a blizzard!) isn’t a requirement! I realized this when I looked back at some of my photos today and remembered how I felt when I took them.
Like one day last Fall when I noticed the way the setting sun was hitting some brown leaves. I took thirty seconds to stop and soak that simple, quiet moment in (and take a picture!) – and the rest of my evening was richer for it.
I’m laughing at myself, but I see, looking through my images, that I’ve had a tendency to mark these kinds of slow-down-and-connect-with-nature moments by taking pictures of my feet. And not because I love taking pictures of my feet! It’s more that these are simply the moments when I was actually unhurried enough to give my full attention to the path I was walking. And in doing so, I invariably saw something worth stopping a few seconds for and immersing in. And it felt good!
Or wildflowers, almost ignored when there’s the much more dramatic sunrise out beyond. (It pays to look down sometimes!)
There’s sand and sea foam and sunset at the beach. (The beach is of course a reliably easy place to slow down and connect, in my experience.)
Less easy are the moments when you’re sitting around, waiting for everybody to be ready to run errands that none of you are particularly enthusiastic about running. I’m not very good at slowing down and, say, enjoying the sunshine coming through the window in those moments.
I feel like the experience of the blizzard – that forced slowing down of my life for a few days – was something of a re-set button for me. I didn’t realize how much I needed that until it was thrust on me.
There’s nothing good that can come from racing your way at breakneck speed through life. You miss things that way. It’s easy to make wrong turns that way, and bad choices. And you gloss right over so much that is worthy and beautiful!
I know all of this in my head – but yet, I put this pressure on myself to “make progress.” I see that – and I don’t like it.
When I can bring myself to slow down enough to breathe and be present, I feel this pressure receding. I feel myself operating from my gut, from my center. I make better choices. I make better progress, frankly!
And yet, it’s just so very, very easy to press the accelerator and just start flying along. And then life becomes a dizzying blur, full of anxiety, framed by the act of dodging obstacles. Like my life is some perpetual game of Mario Kart. (How can you appreciate anything about where you are when you’re driving so fast it’s all you can do not to flip off the track?)
I do think a lot about mindfulness. I do yoga and (at least attempt to) meditate. I give serious thought to things like breath and presence and fully embodying my moments. But I’m not sure I’ve ever considered the actual physical act of just literally moving more slowly through space.
And there’s no stagnation or plateauing involved in a slower progress. I think that’s the part I’ve missed in my thinking before. The blizzard taught me the difference. My blizzard days were some of the richest, fullest days I’ve experienced in my recent memory – and I didn’t even do anything but walk around the apartment complex and its immediate environs!
It comes down to what Cheryl Strayed said above: it’s about choosing on purpose to “travel by foot.” Just doing that – and seeing what you see. Feeling what you feel. Immersing fully in those things.
This, I think, might be a vital truth to remember and keep close to me.
A lesson from the blizzard!
(words and images: Maggie Carlise)