When all the world’s a prism (February 9 newsletter)

Look southwest, toward the sun, and the whole hillside gleams with light. We’re not likely to see many days like this one — after an ice storm, the sun comes out fully, and still it’s cold enough to keep even the shine over the twigs from melting in the afternoon.

The trees were glistening, and I had to get out into the woods, to see how it felt to be surrounded. I walked up the hill to the Chestnut Trail. The path was covered with a fine powder of snow over crust, and every seed pod and bud and beech leaf was coated in ice.

It was still under the trees. The wind quieted down. Now and then a breath would come up and rustle in the glazed branches with a sound like falling water. But with the woods as a windbreak I was warm enough walking uphill, and the clear, lambent web in all directions kept drawing me in.

It’s the kind of beauty that kept pulling me to stop and breathe. It caught me to turn, to see the sunlight dazzle through the understory … to stare nose to nose at a corona of iced-over laurel leaves, look up at the light on the rock ridge and the spruce trees. I kept wanting to tip back my head and stretch out my hands.

As a friend told me yesterday, this time of year we all need some sparkle.

The trail climbs gently until tit meets the Class of ’98 Trail, and the it turns to run along the side of the hill. The ridge opens out above into a stretch of quartzite boulders with spruce trees growing above them. Looking up, I felt for a moment as though I’d walked into northern Montana … except for the mountain laurel. The trail turned uphill again and scrambled up the slope, and I followed it.

I was walking in the footsteps of someone who had climbed not long ago, after the storm, and the crust was thin enough to stamp through on the steeper stretches, and so I slithered slowly and carefully upward until I came level with the top of the rock wall. I’d come high enough for another transformation. Up here, snow had coated the ice on the branches, and the trees were softly crystaline against the sky. And while it wasn’t the clear break of pine cobble, I could see out through the trees to the far ridge, softly cream and lavendar in the late afternoon sun.

Mid-February can stretch us thin even when we’re not weighed down by current events. It has been winter, it will be winter, and we’re tired. It’s easy to look around and see what’s raw, bare, dried out, grubby. Maybe that’s why (in this hemisphere) we’ve held onto a day at this time of year that lets us have some contact. Roses, salves and hot tea, chocolate, live music … it’s all about warmth and energy. And light.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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