An opening comes with winter, when the forest canopy is naked and light falls through the branches to the snow below. Summer in Vermont is packed with green leaves, close hills, screens of trees. Now, the woods are bare and a feeling of space sprawls out. Views hidden by leaves in the summer appear this time of year, framed by the twiggy crowns of trees, and light plays across the landscape like watercolor, fluidly moving from shades of white to gray, purple, pink, blue, yellow, and orange, a shifting palate created by the sun and clouds and particular time of day.
There’s something about this nakedness that brings me more alive. It reminds me of the space I felt in Alaska, the way the open tundra calls to the spirit saying go, roam free; and at the same time, it asks more of me. The elemental cold brings the act of living back to simplicity: make a fire, stay warm, eat.
You know what, I’ve just realized something, just put into words what I’m doing here, though some part of myself has surely known it all along. From the first time I lived in a yurt during the Adirondack Semester in college, a mile-long hike and 3/4 mile paddle across a lake from the nearest car, I’ve been on a journey to remove the insulation between myself and this world. There, in the Adirondacks, I lived in a little yurt village with 13 other students. We left our cell phones and computers behind and spent our days outside; we traded house parties for campfires and starry nights on a dock. I had never before felt so alive.
Since then, I’ve cultivated my life in a way that weeds out the distractions of modern society and leaves space for the base of this life: fresh air, earth, movement, food. It’s harder to do this when away from that village in the Adirondacks. Sometimes I forget why we live this way, why we’re here in this yurt with an outhouse and no running water. Sometimes all those distractions cloud my head and send me reeling, wondering if what we’re doing is crazy.
Winter comes in and strips down the static, leaves me bare as well. It brings me back to the elemental, back to the root of my journey, which is this: to create a life that constantly brings me more alive. There are so many things that let us close up, stop growing, and insulate us from the world. It is so easy to stop noticing the inherent magic and beauty that lives all around us. It is not as easy to be present, aware, and open, but this is precisely the task if we want to be more alive.
Go outside, take a deep breath, keep breathing until the shock of cold slides off and your lungs expand in the clear air and your heart beats a little harder in the sheer exposure of it all. Yell, if it helps. Then ground yourself, shed whatever it is that holds you back, stand naked like a tree in winter. Your path may different than mine, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you follow what brings you alive. What matters is that we all wake up a little more each day.