Unguarded, TentativelyA Seasonal Essay
Thin, skeletal branches stand naked, embarrassed. There’s nothing stopping me from looking straight through them and seeing the world they once guarded.
One of the first friends I had over stood on our front stoop, examined the treeline a few hundred yards away, and said, “You’ll have mountains in the winter.”
Here I was thinking that mountains are of the permanent sort, but now it was being suggested that they might be seasonal. I had only ever lived in cities or suburbs, but I was still almost positive that you either have mountains, or you don’t; they stay put where they are. Reliably so. It may be their most redeeming quality.
I live in Upstate New York now; it’s just turned winter, and would you look at that: there are mountains where there once weren’t. What’s more, out behind the forest in our backyard, there’s a valley that didn’t exist before. I have a few new neighbours, as well. I suspect they would have preferred to stay secret, but the once robust trees lining their driveways have been stripped of their armour. Thin, skeletal branches stand naked, embarrassed. There’s nothing stopping me from looking straight through them and seeing the world they once guarded.
Once the snow is here to stay, I’ll have even more of the world. That valley out back still sits beyond a gauntlet of brush and fallen trees, creeks and gnarled vines. A white carpet will be thrown over it all. I’ll lace up boots I’ve never previously needed to own, put on gloves still stiff in their newness, and step out into a backyard which has no end.
I’ll walk through the woods while my dog bounds along next to me. I’ll balance on the fallen trees and amble across the frozen creeks as she circles me effortlessly, until we’re both standing in the middle of that valley, staring back at our home which was once a secret of its own. I’ll wonder if we should head back; my dog will bury her face in the snow, look back happily at me. We’ll keep going. Maybe there’s another valley somewhere. Maybe there isn’t. But we’ll have to find out now, because spring is around the corner. I’ll have no mountains in the spring.
- Words & Photos: Matthew Johnson