The end of another year; another road. Because this is Wyoming, the stop and start is obscured by the drift of downy flake (to quote the Frost poem, apt as it is to almost every winter day). As one year has hunkered into a new one, I am left in that familiar place where I hold together the pieces of the mirror that was one marker of life lived and look forward to the next with a renewed intention: these are kernels more than anything, and they always unfold in ways that I could not expect.
2014 was supposed to be the (rather unglamorous) year of becoming an adult—embarking on an “adult” job, crossing those T’s, dotting those I’s, getting my finances in order. Of course, it veered into adulthood in ways that were unpredictable and often painful instead. Adulthood, I re-learned, is often about experiencing loss; it’s about recognizing the loss that those you love are experiencing; it’s about beginning to entertain those dangerous hypotheticals that our culture so studiously tries to avoid, and that I have so often avoided myself.
I felt 2014 presented me with a choice: to show up; to not let my own fear of being emotional capsize the small craft of hope that I could offer in the darkness. The other choice was to withdraw and let the muteness of the landscape speak for me, to let routine press me into a preordained shape. To be remote. There are two fallacies here: that there is anything mute about the places that you change by walking through them and that remoteness can save anything.
I chose (mostly) to be present, and all the joy that emerged for my life was the phoenix, the flint-struck and hard-blooming fire of this choice. I’m closer now to friends and family; I hope I’ve learned how to love better and with my actions. I can see, too, how these forks will continue to present themselves. I’ll falter and I’ll make the same choice again, and sometimes I won’t, and will regret it. In this inscrutable white landscape I’m crossing, my thoughts shamble and drift. However, a few things repeat: qualities of light; sails; windows of glass, air, and ice.
And so, this:
1. “It’s a good thing,” I thought to myself, “that I’m so inspired by the light, living here.” Some would call this a white-out: the Tetons blurred from existence by low, blowing snow; the delineation between land and sky flat as a fresco. Land and sky as one canvas. But it was within those veils of snow that I could, actually, discern movement. The spindrift, the breath of light appeared to push through the snow, inflating it with brightness like a sail filling with wind. It took a shape, and the brushwork of the trees almost vanished as it spread out, claiming all this vastness as its own.
2. I read recently about the Chartres cathedral being restored in its interiors—coated in paint, stripped of centuries of grit and gloom—and the aesthetic massacre this presented of the cathedral’s power, which has always been to deliver light. Few aesthetic experiences do so completely cross over into the emotional, and this is one. Aware of the huge gothic ceilings vaulting over one, yet barely able to see them in the murk, this profusion of deep blue and red funnels towards the viewer; light boiled down to color so saturated, that it feels, in effect, true. That was the power I remembered of the space: I had been frozen on the spot, replete with a grandiose sense of the world’s great beauty and mystery; absolutely unprepared for it all. It was a gift of light.
3. In Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Imaginary Iceberg,” the poet describes “a breathing plain of snow…the ship's sails…laid upon the sea as the snow lies undissolved upon the water.” This image is so lovely that I’ve been carrying it with me ever since: a ship held in my mind’s eye, sails quivering just above the glittering expanse, delicate and translucent as a paper moth. And yet, there is a profound stillness in the poem, too. The sailor is struck dumb; the sight compels rhapsodies that he cannot voice. The iceberg itself “cuts its facets from within”—its brightness all accretion and intensification of itself, both entrancing and too awesome to bear. Icebergs, Bishop says, are self-made, like souls, of the “elements invisible.” Standing, they are erected “indivisible.”
All this light; the way it inhabits things and landscapes. Its presence even in the witching hour, in fields of rippled, moon-toothed snow. Its undeniable presence, bending color to our poor perception; the heavy chord Emily Dickinson picked out all those years ago—the “certain slant…oppressing like cathedral tunes” and imparting us a “heavenly hurt.”
Here is my wish for the new year, whatever it brings—a wish, really, for myself. May I be the vessel of whatever lightness there is. May I act as the sail and the blazing accretion and the window, transmuting light through what I can give and bear. May I recognize it when it has been gifted back, and through doing so, keep that white craft on black waters however shakily afloat. May I embody the light through acts of love and presence, remaining grateful, always, for its breath across the world, its silence, its indefatigable hope.
It will be the year of inhabiting the light.