The world is nebulous behind its frosty veil, and scenes that seldom invite a thoughtful glance later in winter are curiously soothing and comforting. Fields are dusted with white like icing sugar, and old rail fences entice one's attention with a few rimed strands of rusty wire looped around their uprights. I am beguiled by the silvery texture and dry fragrance of weathered cedar posts, by frozen grasses blowing in the wind, by withered leaves fluttering through the air like birds.
This week's word comes to us from the Middle English anoynten, the past participle anoynt and the Old French enoint, all three originating in the Latin inunctus or inungere meaning to daub something or to sprinkle it with unguents, oils. salves or other liquids. In modern parlance, when we anoint something, we consecrate it or make it sacred, and there is often an element of ritual or ceremony involved in such undertakings, a dedication to service.
The trail across the field and up into the forest to fill our bird feeders is a sinuous ribbon winding among trees, around thickets, brambles and frozen milkweed. Bare trees arch overhead, and their eloquent branches are anointed with snow. Every snowflake is a star, and we are moving through a winter cosmos, a whole world of stars, and no two the same. When the wind quiets for a few minutes, one can actually hear snow falling in the woods, and the sound is precious beyond words, one of my favorite musics in this hoary old span of earthly days.
It always seems to me that something wonderful is waiting to be known after the first snows anoint the highlands, something in no hurry to reveal itself as we make our way into the woods with food for our wild kin.
The French conductor Pierre Boulez wrote: "Just listen with the vastness of the world in mind. You can't fail to get the message." We listen, and there is no question whatsoever, this place is already sacred. It is enough just to be here and know that the grand, the fey and the elemental dwell in these winter woods and fields. Coming face to face with them on the trail is not necessary.