I am having the winter blahs; how about you? Although we’ve had an open winter without a whole lot of snow in downstate Michigan, one grey day after another feels piled on top of me like a vast tarp repressing my spirit.
I love Jerry Dennis’s writing about rivers and lakes, wooden canoes and the journeys he has taken in them, about rain and clouds and storms and how they work. He is one of the best nature writers of recent years.
In The Windward Shore. A Winter on the Great Lakes (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2011) he feels the same way I do right now about cabin fever:
“Winter becomes a desolation and a hebetude, a Siberia of the soul, an Antarctica of the spirit from which every sensible and mobile being must retreat. . .I tip my head back and watch snowflakes spiraling down from clouds the color of dread. The sky is breaking up, spalling, disintegrating, and the dust and ashes are falling to the Pompein earth. I’m being buried alive. Run!”
I bought The Windward Shore for a winter companion, to help me through my cabin fever by reminding me of the world outside. this time Dennis provides food for thought as well, his philosophy as arresting as his nature descriptions.
“Nature is our reservoir of shared experiences and our stock of collective references. Without that shared ground could we even speak to one another? Listen to words, and you can hear the wind blowing inside them and see the glitter of stars between them. When we say we have ‘stormy’ relationships, or ‘storm’ from a room in anger…we fight ‘like cats and dogs,’ and designate the most celebrated among us as ‘stars.’ Leaves and burrs cling to words, and wild vines twine into the language centers of our brains. Do they grow into other parts of our lives as well?
“Of course they do. How could they not? When we look frankly at ourselves we know that we are made of the same stuff as orioles and oak trees, lightning bolts and beach stones, and that any separation is an illusion.” 37-8
I have spent my whole life “getting out in nature” in order to soothe my spirits by taking my mind off of myself. Sometimes, as in the case of my cabin fever blahs, nature gets me down, but I am more often lifted up. This winter, Dennis proved a companion not only in his account of the natural world but in his take on why it moves us:
“When we reach deeply into the world, the world reaches back. Is this sanctity? Or science? Does it explain why mystics and physicists agree that the observer and the observed are always locked, like a hand and a handle, in the process of becoming one another?”