It snowed heavily last night, and
I found myself waking to the task of
Shoveling a hundred feet of driveway.
“Hire someone with a snowplow;
You’re too old to be doing this,”
My wife said in her female wisdom.
“I’m OK,” I insisted.
“You’re seventy-four,” she said,
Punctuating her argument.
“You don’t have to prove anything.”
“I shovel my own driveway,” I grumped
As she retreated to her morning rituals.
I walked out into the cold—
Twelve degrees should feel colder,
I thought as I paused, shovel in hand
And remembered the deeper reason
I chose this chore for myself—
A reason beyond masculine vanity.
Surrounded by trees heavy with snow,
The constant hum of traffic muffled
By jeweled powder, I felt the silence
Enfold me. Dog walkers and joggers
Comfortable inside their homes,
I imagined myself the sole possessor of
The beauty the storm had left behind.
I began the ritual of clearing the drive:
Push the shovel through the powder;
Tap the shovel’s edge on the ground
To free the snow that stuck to it;
Watch it fall among the piles
Accumulating beside the driveway;
Pause; repeat—a solitary
Meditation on the ache
Of muscles in a body grown old.
We live in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains,
Near the National Forest. A small
Herd of deer—refugees
Adapted to human encroachment—
Moves regularly through our neighborhood,
Browsing its way from yard to yard.
I saw hoof prints in the snow
And felt compassion for their suffering,
Stranded in the bitter reality
That created the beauty around me.
Pausing to rest and catch my breath,
I looked up and saw the source
Of the hoof prints: A young doe
Stared at me from among the trees,
Her eyes clear, dark, serene.
An adolescent fawn stood behind her.
I returned her stare, stricken by her beauty,
The pure, abstract femininity
Unique to wild creatures, the curves
Of her face, her neck, her joints
So unlike the muscularity
Of the males that lingered nearby.
Transfixed, I thought of Green Tara,
The Bodhisattva of compassion,
Often portrayed as a nature goddess,
Surrounded by plants and wild beasts,
Vital, nurturing, patient, playful.
Legend has it that when her
Fellow monks suggested she
Re-incarnate as male to broaden
Her perspective (Or to validate
Their own?) Tara declined, choosing
Always to return as female.
Now, I sensed her presence in the
Artless femininity of an animal’s gaze.
I thought of the shovel and the yards
Of uncleared snow, and felt my muscles
And joints complain once more, but also
I felt their strength persisting—life
Burning against encroaching cold.
Are the aches and pains of age
Signs of an inevitable ending?
Or could they be a call to something
Unknowable, beyond time,
Without form or boundary—
The liquid non-being beneath
An animal’s inhuman stare?
Just as wisdom is born of paradox,
Transience implies continuity.
I watched the doe walk away,
She disappeared into the trees
As I resumed clearing the drive,
Removing her hoof prints along with
The snow that had contained them.