Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
Today we are nearing record high temperatures. And I am here at my desk, daydreaming of living on the lake and its winter snowfall and pearlescent lake ice. Albert Einstein wrote: “Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world.” Dr. Einstein is correct. I feel cooler as memories of winters past and its deep cold settle over my current external-world reality.
Living on the lake taught me to pay attention to the simplest of things: the remaining daylight in the late afternoon for chores, the amount of water still in the bucket on the stand as night approached, the arrival of the bell mare coming in from open pasture on the mountain, and the weather that rolled in from the south over the ridge. Weather determined the plan of each day: sunny days were reserved for wood cutting or laundry or boat maintenance; rainy days for cooking or personal study or paperwork.
Come November, the lake would freeze, the float plane traffic would stop until springtime, the quiet would descend more fully. All sound would be absorbed by the low clouds, the ice on the lake, and the snow-covered ground. The silence was deafening in the winter months. I used to keep an old funky radio — all wrapped around with copper wire — tuned to the only clear AM station in order to combat the ringing in my ears from the deafening quiet. The lack of sound waves and movement took on a new life, a new way of being and of paying attention. It was a unique experience that has shaped my current notion of stillness. It is in this place where I learned how to live with the elements and how to be quiet within my own self.
It was a rewarding and demanding lifestyle which did not allow for a great deal of convenience. I did not have electricity, running water, telephone, or the usual appliances found in the average American household. I cooked on a wood cookstove and heated my home with a 55-gallon barrel turned on its side. Artificial light came from kerosene and, in the wintertime, additional natural light was provided by the sun’s reflection off the newly-fallen snow.
I loved waking up to that first snowfall. The cabin would be bathed in a brilliance that had been quite-noticeably absent during the darker months of autumn. It felt as if a Supreme and Altruistic Benefactor had turned on a light switch of ambient brilliance, and I was the receiver of such luminosity.
But I am human, and this first-awakening glow would predictably wane. And it would no longer be deeply revered and appreciated. The first snow did indeed translate such that less kerosene would be burned in the early morning hours. Another bonus was that in just a few more snowfalls the open crawl space beneath the cabin would soon be insulated from winter’s colder temperatures. I would be burning less firewood. The floorboards would be warmer longer.
All of these amazing advantages. I would lie in bed that first morning and simply love the gift of snowfall.
That first snow also signified the beginning of an intense arm-and-back workout that would present its demands on a daily basis for the next 5 or 6 months. Snowfall would become the dratted monster that would creak and groan and eventually slither off the metal roof all night during a heavy fall and engulf the entire house in its shroud of white. That bonus brilliance would soon be muted by a massive amount of wet concrete that would need to be moved away from the single pane windows — lest the added pressure cause them to collapse.
It was a delicate balance of attitude adjustment. The properties of snow are exactly what they are. Nothing had changed regarding the crystalline structure of the snowflakes. My interpretation of these properties was what had shifted. Appreciation? Or just plain hard work?
Hauling water in 2.5-gallon buckets up the hill from the lake demanded that water be afforded an immense amount of respect. In the coldest of winter, vigilance was required to preserve my water source. The diameter of the hole would quickly shrink as the cold settled into Deep Winter. Chipping through the new lens of ice each day released the smell of fresh lake water and the promise of springtime. I can recall that smell today. I can remember the feeling of standing on the ice and drawing water with the stainless-steel bucket. Life was alive and moving beneath the stillness imposed by the ice.
I very much like this quote of Albert Einstein’s. What a genius he was in so many ways. When I look deep into nature, I do understand everything better. I understand that there is a dichotomy to things. That there is a yin and a yang. That It-Is-I who can tip my inner scale of harmony toward appreciation over overwhelm-ment. I appreciate the lessons that I gained from living in a primitive environment that reminded — demanded — me to look up and all around.
To look up. I wonder at this now. It sometimes seems that I so rarely look up. I am reminded to turn this around and start looking up and around. I sit here at my desk and I look out the window at the trees on this gorgeous summer day . . . and I find myself daydreaming about winter’s snow and ice. So Much Beauty. All around and all the time. And so many gifts of renewal are in my life today. So many. I believe that I appreciate them more intensely because I have “looked deep into nature.” I value my appreciation of today. Of being alive. Of being able to return and to grow my appreciation to those whom I love. What a gift it is to appreciate life and love, to share trust and laughter with another.
For this, I raise a toast . . . a 2.5 gallon bucket . . . a fine glass of cognac . . . to Nature for assisting me to “understand everything” a little better in this moment. I feel deeply blessed.