still life

How foreign I must seem to them. Around the crisp reeds of the marsh they rise, a circle of silent trees forming a steep bowl with a high, protective rim. They tower like parents over a toddler, and in the center I feel their expectant gaze. Whether I stand awhile, motionless as they are, or stoop to investigate a line of paw prints in the snow, or begin to step farther ahead, I am on display for their consideration. They have been here, waiting in the still, frigid air, for what to me might as well be forever. To them I’m but a moment’s curiosity.

Beyond the inky glass of the marsh waters, the snowy path meanders through denser woods. As I enter, somewhere above a raven begins to caw – a warning to others? The sharp sound echoes among the austere trunks, underscoring my sense of being an interloper here.

Everything – snow, trees, stones, ferns – picks up the lifeless gray of the sky above, except for a low golden disc winking through the trees ahead, drawing my eyes with its soft glow. The sun is fading; its feeble pinking rays illuminate only the highest branches, which reach upward for the day’s last warmth like fingertips. In the shadows far beneath, hidden in a narrow gully, I’m accompanied only by a few scattered periscopes of fern peeking above the packed snow.

Occasionally, in the distance, a squirrel broadcasts its position with a ruckus of crackling leaves. Their gray coats stand out against the snow as they move about their business, inattentive to snapping twigs. A small bird darts past, wingtips brushing against branches along the path, somehow creating a rustle too loud for its minute size. In the icy stillness, the least sign of life attracts attention. Even thin trees appear in motion, curved branches accentuated by the white backdrop and twisting dimensionally, like sculpture, as I move past.

At the river, a faint translucence hovers midwater, with dips and rises like a rumpled bedsheet beneath the surface. In places it meets the air and becomes a lunar landscape, encrusted with icy hills, bubbles and cracks. Elsewhere it is smoothed and blurred by the water that flows, hushed, above it.

Suddenly a single green leaf, points curled upward into a canoe, approaches on the water, its spry yellow stem nodding and wagging with each slight eddy. When it reaches me it pauses, taking advantage of a sudden backswirl to direct its curious attention at me. Then it swoops right, avoiding a bank of snow-capped rocks, and bobs ahead on its journey.

Like the squirrels, the birds and the sun, the leaf flashes with loud life against winter’s starkness – a lonely wanderer exploring the stillness and the beauty of creation.

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copyright © 2003, michael w. hobson

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7 Responses to “still life”

  1. Patty Says:

    You so wonderfully captured your walk in a word picture that I, a devoted “insider,” felt I was walking with you.

  2. Johnny Says:

    Wonderful piece. More poetry than fiction. Indeed a word painting.

  3. Romy Says:

    Your writing never disappoints me. A breathtakingly beautiful piece.

  4. Donna Says:

    Beautifully poetic. Makes me yearn even more for spring to arrive so I can have new moments like this in our forest!

  5. Carmen Says:

    Your words paint wonderful pictures. We just went through an ice storm, here in the Midwest – your story took me back there. You write beautiful prose. Keep them coming.

  6. ruin3r999 Says:

    The way you write seems very much like a painter and an easel. Very beautifully put together piece, I applaud you for the vibrant imagery used within it.

  7. the forester Says:

    I wrote this essay as a model for my students after walking on the path behind my house. The assignment: walk for an hour in nature alone, then write an informal essay describing the experience.

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