"Go as far as you can see; when you get there you'll be able to see farther." ~ Thomas Carlyle
I think there is an unconscious expectation that when there is motion, there should be corresponding sound. Perhaps that’s why when standing still in the woods with thick white snow falling all around with not a breath of external sound, there is a sense of unreality – of (I must say it again) magic.
Maybe it is just because the changing winds are such common company that their absence inspires curiosity and wonder. Snow here usually rides on the whims of the wind. Sharp, pricking stings driven horizontally into exposed skin by a strong and steady storm are familiar sensations, remedied by the lift of a scarf or the tucking of a glove.
The capricious Boreas capers, then rages through the forest, sweeping loose needles and blankets of snow and wringing howls from the boughs and squeals from the trunks of those conifers that have been blown into a precarious embrace, just to soften and lull the woods into a mellow sigh before striking once more. The horde of icy snow this north wind drives before it, hisses in its rush to embed itself into any landing-place, crowding densely as if to avoid being lifted and launched again. It packs onto the earth and up against the craggy trunks of the pines: heavy, airless and hard it provides tunnel-perfect matter for the subnivean denizens of the forest.
I am accustomed to the squeaks and crunching of my winter boots breaking through this thick substance, so the passage through the snow this past week has been a novelty: merely shushing and nearly quiet. For most of a week a southish wind has brought low clouds to release softly and gently floating flakes, unendingly accumulating to cover the maze of forked hare tracks, to lovingly enfold every surface with insulating down, to cushion and obscure the wing-drop of the hunting owl and absorb the sound of distant bird calls. Seemingly unconcerned as I pass beneath and nearly silhouetted against the slate sky, a ruffed grouse browses mutely on the slumbering embryos of buds on an overhanging aspen branch. A snowshoe hare bounds camouflaged and soundlessly through white-blanketed Labrador Tea.
A subdued but euphonious knocking becomes audible above the soft sounds of my footfalls, seemingly distant. I follow the sound a very short way before suddenly passing it. Turning, I realize that it is emanating from an aged and leaning pine just by my side. An ear to the still rough bark reveals the diligent hammering of a small, unseen, vagabond woodpecker 40 or 50 feet up in the thick cone-laden branches. I am transfixed by the vibrations of sound travelling through the living tissue of the wood as if mesmerized by a primitive ritual.
The illusive sun suddenly burns through a weak gray layer dusting the snow surface with softly reflecting sequins. I raise my face to the light and the snowfall; each flake a tender kiss on skin alive with sensation, eyelashes catching Christmas in a net. A wisp of a breeze, an ephemeral exhalation lifts the weightless snow from the willows without disturbing the silent winter sleep of the wood, sending fluffy plumes and tiny clouds of flakes into the air and onto my mittened hand, exquisitely unique crystalline compositions still clearly discernible.
The gargled crrawk of an investigating raven breaks the silence, muted and soft as if this king of the winter canopy too, is loath to disturb the serenity.