Photo-Journal

Photography and Writing by James McCarthy

Snowfall

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The god of this day is snow. Large snowflakes drift down in the night sky while we’re sleeping. They gather on the branches of trees and the boughs of pines, blanketing rooftops. All is quiet. We awake to a world made new by snow.

The snow-god calls me out of the warmth of this house and I am obedient to its wishes.

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I go down to the river. I walk through an evergreen forest that has become silent in the snowfall. No cawing crows, no chickadees singing their name from within the woods. Do they wait for the falling snow to end? Do they perch in zazen, patient and quiet?

Boughs bend from the weight of snow. The trail before me is white with the absence of footsteps. I stop to listen to the silence of falling snow.

As soon as I stop to listen, just off the trail, a chickadee alights on a pine bough. It seems curious about me. Just as the thought arises -- “Well, hello, my little friend …” – the chickadee flies off. A small shower of snowflakes as it disappears into the forest.

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White and black, a stand of birch trees in the snow.

Rabbit tracks crossing the trail. Beech leaves covered in snow.

The sound of rushing water as I descend a ravine on the trail that takes me down to the Cathance River. Muffled, though, by the snow.


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I walk like an old man, not wanting to tumble down the snow-covered icy incline leading to the river. Almost to the bottom, in a half crouch, my left foot slips … and I tumble any way. Slide the rest of the way down like a kid on a Flexible Flyer sled. No one is present to watch and, perhaps, laugh at my ungainly descent. Of course, that also means no one is present to help if I injure myself -- a reminder to be careful.

Base of a tree like two pencils point to point: When did the beaver leave behind this unfinished task and will it resume gnawing this tree when warm weather returns again?

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The river is high, no doubt because of all the rain we’ve had the week before. Snow-laden boughs occasionally unburden themselves, sending a shower of snow into the river’s rushing water. Even in winter the water cycle continues, from clouds to streams and rivers and lakes and eventually the ocean where it begins all over again.

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Ice along the edges of rocks and the river’s bank diverts the river’s flow.

Tall pines: A cathedral roofed in snow. No hymns, no chants, no rosaries whispered in the back-most pew. I recall the line from a poem by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, whose order observed the Rule of Silence: “Love winter when the plant says nothing.”

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Climbing up from the ravine, a hint of sun. Snow is no longer falling. The god of the day has moved on. Already the pines and trees are divesting themselves of snow, reverting to their old familiar appearances. How quickly a new world becomes old.