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A Walk in the Back Fields

The Path by Day. (Photo: Philip Jefferson)

The Path by Day (Philip Jefferson)

I’m restless tonight.

The sun’s long gone, but it’s not fully dark yet. The snow — almost a light sleet — races earthward through the glow of my back porch light with a neat, linear verticality. I need to be in it. Moving through it.

Coat, boots, cap. I’m out the door, and a minute up the country road on which I live, turn onto the tractor lane leading to the back fields. Now that I’m away from the house lights, it’s darker than I thought. The trees and hedgerows merely vague outlines against the lighter canvass of snow. Their edges marginally distinct against the creeping night, blurred by the gauze mask of the snow further obscuring the fading vistas spread out around me. I can feel the tender needlepoint of the crystalline precipitation brush my cheeks, but otherwise I discern the flakes as little more than a whispered presence, carried to me on the breeze.

I love this short path back to the fields. Two wheel ruts in the red earth, separated, then flanked, by ridges of tall grass. The grass verge, in turn, flanked by a copse of trees — a ragtag mixture deciduous and coniferous — on either side. Verdant and full in the spring and summer, and cut through with a vein of crisp copper accents in the fall. Tonight however, there is only the glow of the fresh snow forging a gentle arc through the line of trees, themselves radiant under a generous dusting.

I pause, as I always do, and and feel the instinctive pull of the path’s distant vanishing point accentuated by the enclosure of the branches forming a natural arbour above me. The wind — more of a heavy breeze really, stiff and companionable, hardly out to confront or overwhelm — is at my back. The scene is perfect, as only such snowscapes can be. The world at once luminous and strangely muted, as if there is only you — there has only ever been you — alone within this crisp embryo of nature.

Other images race to my mind — they’re simply impossible to control. Robert Frost “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” with “…miles to go before I sleep.” Or Thoreau, hiking back to Walden through a darkening winter’s night in the Concord countryside. I can know these men through instants such as this. The veil of time falls away and they are here, beside me.

And I shiver, because perhaps Washington Irving is here with me as well. It’s hardly Hallowe’en, but this is certainly a horseman night — and it’s definitely a horseman path. And I marvel at the fact that my adult mind can still play these tricks on me. That darkness and solitude and exposure can still stir some faint primal unease — long-buried beneath the detritus of modernity — and generate a tremor more spine-tinglingly thrilling than any celluloid slasher flick.

I trudge forward to the end of the path, then down the edge of the first long field to the sparse hedgerow at the end. Pause for a breather and look out over the expanse of the next field. Then I turn my face into the wind and hunch forward a little, preparing for my return.

With the snow blowing toward me now, I keep my head down, peaked cap pulled low above my eyes. A more contemplative passage for the homeward leg. Trudging in reverse against my previous footfalls, thoughts turning inward as my perspective is constricted to a narrow slice of track in front of me. So busy inside my head — doing little more than trying not to think of anything — that I’m back to where the path starts through the trees again in no time.

And I stop. And wait. Because I don’t want what I’m feeling out here to end. I turn my back to the wind once more and lift my head to face the fields where night has now taken hold. The tickling of the snow against my cheeks is like the dance of innumerable, stark pinpricks of life. I close my eyes to to try to imprint these sensations, these emotions, in my mind. I feel the night against the delicate, sensitive skin of my eyelids, and the sound of my world is stillness.

Try as I might, its impossible to carry such peace back to the house with me.

Words fall short, but they carry a map of sorts. That’s probably as much as we can hope for.



  1. bronxboy55 says:

    “Words fall short, but they carry a map of sorts. ” Are you kidding? I found myself wondering if you were out there with a laptop. Beautiful writing, Phil.

  2. Tom Marshall says:

    The call–the earth primeval. To me nature recharges and rejuvenates. I miss my walks to First Lake in the woods of Nova Scotia, the barren fields in Fall in Illinois, the stroll down to the fish shack on PEI. To study a tulip pushing its way through the earth, the bright green life shoving aside the dirt; the smell of the ocean, or the smell of the woods, or the smell of the earth are all fine things–better than any gold plated room of a king.

    I’m reminded of Owl Moon by Jane Yolen; Walden, and Izaak Walton’s The Complete Angler. I want to stand on the peat bog and listen to the warblers while standing next to a hackmatack, to spy out where the ducks might be on the lake, to wait and see if the beaver may surface. And then there is the walk back through the woods along the logging road, the tall trees, and the moss covered ground. These are things I’ve forgotten.

    You have sparked this longing, and I’ve no way to get to First Lake without driving six hours. On the one hand I should weep in despair, but on the other hand I should say fine post–very fine post indeed.

    “Some boys would not have liked it; to me it was red beef and strong beer.” ~C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, “The Great Knock” (1955)

  3. […] I do often meet its “siblings” over the course of the remaining three seasons — check out A Walk in the Back Fields, for example). Later in the summer, as I have already noted, the grass will lose it’s emerald […]

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