The beauty of winter is of an entirely different character than the beauty of spring, summer, and autumn. If the beauty of the seasons could be described in terms of music, spring, summer, and autumn would be various moods of an orchestral masterpiece. But the beauty of winter would be akin to a wistful flute solo, soaring airy just out of reach of complete comprehension. At the heart of winter is simplicity.
The beauty of winter is in the illumination of those things which, in the green and growing months, are often obscured by the glorious and gaudy, the lush and lavish, the bright and boisterous. Those little things, those hidden treasures, suddenly come to light. When there is nothing else more eye-catching to marvel at, then the colors in a curl of white bark, or the mysterious shimmer of falling snow, or the patterns of frost on a pane of glass can be appreciated for their otherworldly, exquisite simplicity.
A winter hike is a like a search for hidden treasure. Instead of tangible, quantifiable beauty, like a flower, or a green, green landscape, it is the intangible, the play of lights and shadows that make the beauty of winter. To see the beauty of winter, it is necessary oftentimes to look closer, to look deeper into the well of beauty.
When I find something in summer that catches my eye, it is often something unmistakable like a blooming flower, or a certain cluster of trees, or a gold-lined autumn path, or the way the landscape shimmers in evening. But in winter, those things that catch my eye are often the things that grow deep in the underbrush, or which nestle close at the base of a tree, or which cling to bare branches, or the way the snow outlines the hillside or the tree or the fenceline, or those moments which I cannot duplicate, like light streaming through a broken jar, or glowing through husks of flowers, or the specific way the snow fell heavy and silent for five minutes during that one snowfall, or footprints in a freshly fallen snow.
Hiking yesterday with Roy and Reagan and Anna, the trees were covered over with snow. The beauty was breathtaking. Snow fell from the branches as we walked beneath them in their silence. Snow fell from the sky as we walked beneath the peace and serenity of the clouds. We tried to catch snowflakes on our tongues. The beauty was in seeing the normally unseen, the giant dead pine with pine cones squirreled away inside of it, on a steep hillside we’ve never hiked before, or the rock overhang with crystals as thick as my little finger, or scrambling over, though, under, and between snowy branches, slipping and falling in the snow, crawling through brush that would normally be all but impassible in the summer, shaking snow from branches and sending it showering down all around.
The treasure of winter is the subtlety of its gifts.