Winter's Last DanceFeb 28, 2022 09:00AM ● By Bob Ross
What’s gray and white
But out of sight
Until you wake tomorrow?
And only when
You listen hard
Will you cast winter’s sorrow.
It was an early March evening in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, cold but no windchill, overcast but not yet dark. As I stepped outdoors, I immediately felt the moisture in the air, a sign that winter was starting to lose its grip on this northern forested landscape. Exasperated by the bleak weather for so many months now, I did not even check the next day’s forecast to gage my activity options during the still-short days ahead. What good would it do? Just another wearisome winter day. Over the years I’d learned that March was always the most disappointing month of the year. Thinking of spring’s warmth and sun-filled days was a cruel hoax, for rarely did they come then. Whether tired or just bored, I found myself in an “about face” toward that winter bedroom comfort zone and fell asleep almost before finishing the next chapter of a John Muir anthology.
When I awoke the next morning at first light, I was greeted by something as strange as hen’s teeth: almost total silence. Blinking to clear my eyes I glanced out the French slider. It snowed overnight! Rising to the occasion for a better view, I saw half a foot of snow on the ground. But not just the ground—trees were laden with the white stuff, two to three inches on every branch I could see! Hurriedly I dressed as warmly as I could to get out there. No coffee, no breakfast, just a run to the woods trail. It was a winter wonderland in March, with fluffy white snowflakes everywhere. My trail was a tunnel of lovely gray and white twisting branchlets leading me through a winding cavern of subdued light and short paths. This woods was totally unfamiliar to me, a woods I’d never experienced before, yet a woods I’d walked through uncountable times in my many years living here. The only signs of life were small mammal tracks of nocturnal rodents and perhaps a cottontail or two. But most unusual was the silence surrounding me. By now traffic noise from the highway, only one-third of a mile away, would have woken up even a late-night teenager on a typical early morning day here. But the snow covered the road and was still falling. Tire noise from any car that did pass by was completely absorbed by the fresh snowfall.
By now black-capped chickadees had broken the silence with strangely muffled “dee-dee-dee” calls. Clouds of snowflakes wafted from small tree branches as the chickadee family moved about above me. After marveling at such sights and the near lack of sound, I returned to my cabin in awe. This silence was so relieving of the frenetic pace of life as to let me know peace that few others will ever know. It was the most glorious outdoor morning of my winter, in fact, any winter I had endured here in Penn’s northern woods. Thus solved is the riddle posed at the beginning of this essay.
(This essay was inspired by Muir, J. 1912, “In the Midst of the Yosemite Fall,” The Yosemite, The Century Co., New York.)