It was a fitting way to start the New Year.
With temperatures ranging from a high of 6 degrees Fahrenheit (F) to a low of -6 F, and wind chill temperatures down to -26 F, it was certainly a wintery day in keeping with Thoreau’s wintery reflection that “the wonderful purity of nature at this season is a most pleasing fact”, and “that a cold and searching wind drives away all contagion.” And so, with those musings in mind, I set out for a day of tracking, happy to put the contagion of 2017 behind me, while looking forward to the New Year with an eye (I) toward purification becoming more inner fact.
An intimation of intriguing possibility for the New Year’s resolve came to me as my wife, and I drove up to Maine the day before to spend time with our closest family friends on New Year’s Eve. We listened to two podcasts along the way, one on an interview with Gerald Dickens, the great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens, who has been coming stateside yearly since 2000 to do public readings of A Christmas Carol, and the other was a Ted Radio Talk on the nature and understanding of Beauty. What struck me most in the Gerald Dickens interview was the interviewer’s query about the meaning of the somewhat enigmatic picture of the two children sheltered beneath the folds of the Ghost of Christmas Present’s robe called “Ignorance” (a male child) and “Want” (a female child). Ignorance and want being subjective of course, but Dickens’ reply was steeped in his great-great grandfather’s social commentator’s role reflecting the “want”, or need of the masses, and the “ignorance” of those of means who stand ignorant of such need, which the Ghost of Christmas Present warns Scrooge to be most mindful of, as upon his brow was written the dire warning of our doom!! The significance drawn from the podcast on Beauty, for me, was its intimations upon our universal quest for meaning, and ultimately how that relates back to the children called “Want” and “Ignorance.” The commentary upon Beauty drew references to studies linking pastoral landscapes, and the color blue, as the two universal impressions most evocative of this feeling and concept of beauty within us, and it was thus with these two seeds of thought that I set out for a day of tracking to start a new year.
There wasn’t much moving in these cold temperatures, and I was feeling the usual inner anticipation of finding the tracks of something “big”, like the black bears I’ve seen most winters lately, or even the fabled possibility of Puma (Mountain Lion) that appears to be gaining headlines in and around the Northeast these days! Yet the first tracks seen this day were those of the ubiquitous common White-footed Mouse (Peromyscus leucopus), who I am guilty of paying scant attention to most days. Bringing me up abruptly to the recognition of the conscious need for paying more considerable attention to that small and somewhat elusive thing called the ‘present moment’, as well as the seemingly simple, familiar, and passed-over minute tracks that are seen just about everywhere.
The next track sighting this day was of those other ubiquitous, yet not so easily identified and understood, tracks dotting the forest floor – those of the Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), and the main aim of my tracking studies this winter of cultivating greater mastery of bird track & sign. The beauty of their scripted writings upon the snow brought up associative thoughts of the classic Sufi tale “The Conference of The Birds”. This likens birds to our human flightiness of thought, and the “voices” of birdsong intimating the stream of incessant inner dialog marring our capacity toward attentiveness at any given moment.
But on this day I didn’t fall into that mindless trap of disruptive thinking, and the resulting quiet of the moment allowed for the beauty of the impressions before me at the moment to take hold. And then the link between Beauty, Ignorance, and Want appearing alongside recognition of what I was really searching for when out tracking this day. I was searching and tracking for meaning.
Meaning, on this day, issued forth when the surrounding beauty of nature was conjoined with the joy experienced when piecing the track & sign witnessed into a contextual, meaningful story. A moment of human presence where Ignorance had no foothold; present to myself and where I was at that particular moment, open and receptive to the beauty of the moment and attentive to the nuanced fluctuations of mind; beauty and joy fused into pure and straightforward meaning. So there I was, just me standing within a beautiful and wild natural setting of my backyard, marking a moment related to all of creation on this first day of a New Year. My wish is that the New Year be marked for all with the same experience of beauty and joy; thus a harbinger of a more significant year for all mankind. A New Year where peace and goodwill toward all are brought into each, and every moment we attend to or rue the peril of time in ignorance of such meaning.
Breathing the beauty of this moment deeply into my soul, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the other connection to beauty made in the podcast with the color blue. The winter’s landscape robed this day in a mantle of brilliant white snow, offset by an incredibly blue sky, magically opened the door to my perception of beauty, and reminded me of one other strong impression of true beauty experienced over the passing year. It was when my wife and I while walking the entirety of the Southwest Coastal Path in England this Autumn, were inundated and overwhelmed by the sensory impressions gained through constancy and intimacy with the sea’s blueness being juxtaposed with the sky’s blueness. Being a daily witness for so long to such a relationship of elemental beauty was magical in its extreme, and beyond capturing in the word. It was undoubtedly a gift given by being so connected to nature’s bounty, which is in no small measure why long distance walking is so attractive to us, but this experience of being open to beauty can be had on any day where we hold fast to getting out into nature even in small doses. Connection happens in a moment, and any moment experienced where we connect with body, soul, and spirit can magically open the door to beauty, joy, and real meaning. It may even be that the real revolution which the times are in need of is a blue revolution, as opposed to a green one? And with that closing thought, it appears that my ultimate wish for myself, my family, friends, and community is that we usher in a true blue revolutionary spirit to guide us through the upcoming New Year.
 A Winter Walk; Thoreau Essays, edited by Jeffrey Cramer, Yale University Press 2013
 The Conference of the Birds by Mantiq Ut-Tair; Shambhala, Boulder 1971