“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”
~Henry David Thoreau
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The light is different in the winter here in Kansas. The earth grows cold and colorless. Leaves fall and die. The grass turns grey and lays down. We wrap our bodies in cloth and strap on boots; we remove ourselves from the world, burrow in, shutting the elements out. Having lived in the Southwest for the past ten years or so, I really had forgotten what it’s like to watch the world transform around you. The tempo shifts in Arizona, too. The light is different there, too. But the colored orange landscape remains largely unchanged.
I don’t care much for the kind of intense cold that comes with a Midwestern winter, but at dusk there is a kind of magic that’s unique to this place. The ground is cold ice and the sky, ablaze. Looking at the fire and ice reflecting off each other in the growing darkness makes you feel small. Not in a bad sense, mind you, but in the kind of way that genuinely inspires adoration and awe. It’s no wonder our ancestors worshiped the sun; the nuclear color and the distant promise of warmth while stumbling, shivering through the cold, would be enough to bewilder any sentient being. Winter makes you feel alone. It awakens a dormant primal emotion. Heat becomes everything; a feeling of safety from the crushing force of nature. Like an evolutionary twitch, surviving the night feels oddly like a task, rather than a given.
I walked along the shores of the Kansas River today and watched the sky slowly turn from blue, to red, into purple. On the edge of Shawnee, a couple of miles from the Interstate, few people walk the pavement. At rush hour, the highway is a maelstrom of anxiety and noise. Just a short distance down the road, and you can sit on a rock and watch the starlings dancing from tree to tree, looking for a place to rest for the night. It feels like another country altogether when you can get away from the huge thoroughfares. I watched the five-thirty train roll along the line, carrying it’s freight westward. I watched my breath drift up into the darkening veil.
You know what? It’s true what they say about the value of a good walk.