by David Drury
“What a psalm the storm was singing” – John Muir
I had no plans to leave my home library here the day after Christmas. A storm has arrived. A gusty, windy snow storm that drifts into great white dunes and causes television news reporters to predict the end of all things. My brother and his family are braving the storm driving north. My mother and father are driving south. I have a strange desire to head out into this storm even though I don’t have any where to go. Part of the reason for that is that I’ve learned the language of the storm. It’s not that I don’t fear it. I do fear the storm. I should. It’s just that I’ve come to enjoy fearing something. Fearlessness is not the absence of danger–it is the absence of the twin truths of risk and wisdom.
When you’re out hiking in a horrible almighty storm you know your place, and if not you discover it. Technology is meaningless. Clothing means survival. Shelter becomes salvation. You at once become fully aware that you are not as powerful and as in control as you once thought. I’ve been forced to abandon a summit assents because of snow storms–sometimes multiple times in one trip–sometimes abandoning the goal entirely and retreating to civilization in shame, but alive, and so content. Such an experience reminds you how much at the mercy you are to the elements. I’ve camped atop 10 foot drifts where you had to wear snow-shoes if you left the tent to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, lest you find yourself falling in. Nature humiliates humanity, and that we humans were not really made for all environments. Many mammals are made of better stuff for the winter than we are. In fact, most are. You drop off a golden retriever who has never left the yard into the wilderness one day and the dog will find a way–perhaps all the way back to your doorstep a month later. Drop off the dog’s owner in the same spot and it’s an iffy situation. The smart money is on the retriever.
In a huge snow storm like this one we are prone to look at the sky, the roads, the trees, the homes, or just to look at the blinding whiteness of it all and be overwhelmed. But my favorite thing to do in a storm is to look at the snowflake. We don’t see the forest for the trees. But we don’t understand the snowflake for the snow. To look at just one snowflake in the storm: that is what is required. All that blinding whiteness out there that overwhelms is just a whole lot of those snowflakes gathering in one place. When you look at snow all together it appears like an army of white doom. But when you look at a single snowflake it shows itself to be a dainty frozen flower. John Muir reminded us that “raindrops blossom brilliantly in the rainbow, and change to flowers in the sod, but snow comes in full flower direct from the dark, frozen sky.” A snowflake is a full flowering of beauty that falls, literally, into your lap. You need not even pick this flower. He hands it to you.
Gaze at the snowflake and see what the wind might whisper to you through it. Learn the language of the avalanche and find your place. It is not one of false humility. The snowflake is crafted with uniqueness–by some secret stratospheric alchemy of moisture, gravity & wind. A snowflake is undoubtedly special. But how much more are you? “You are worth more than many snowflakes” the Savior said in Matthew 10. Or would have said, if Nazareth was a town in Norway.
Seek out the snowflake in the midst of the storm. You too were crafted with uniqueness in that warm womb. But what is more, you too were sought out with such intentionality. In the storminess of this world, a Someone set out to find you in it, to single you out with care lest you melt in His hand, and then to appreciate the You-ness of you.
The wind may whisper Creation, but I find that snow shouts.
(c) 2012 by David Drury