It was a cold northeastern Pennsylvania night. I don’t recall the day of the week, or even the year, but the season was tucked into that idiom wrongly called, the dead of winter. There’s nothing dead about it.
I was in my teens and still living with my parents. It was late night and snow had covered the ground one day in the early nineteen-sixties. While night, the reflections from the snow allowed me to see everything, although it looked like a blue-tinted black and white photograph.
While all years of my life were important, those teen years are prominent memories. I still recall how I felt then, but now it’s hard to describe. I’ll never feel like that again. The wonderful adjectives of youth applied to me: vital, vigorous, and energetic; yet so did lazy, horny, rebellious, and impulsive. I would not say pensive or thoughtful. Yet, there was that one night.
As I walked through deep snow above my ankles, a powdery white mattress was laid out around me in all directions. The white snow was tinted cobalt blue by the moon-lit night sky. None of the snow was marked by footsteps or car tires. The blanket was pristine. The cemetery across the street was a charming and peaceful sight. I loved the sight of the snow, the reflection of street lights with a wintery halo, the contrast of red brick buildings with lines of white where snow landed. Even boarded-up windows seemed fitting to this natural artistic sight. What I saw made me feel good. I was happy, but thoughtful about what I saw.
If anyone saw me, they might assume I was lonely. I was not. Never. While my teen years presented me with daily challenges, feeling lonely wasn’t one of them. Even back then, I treasured my alone time. I have searched for more nights like that one, but I will never discover such a night again. Nature’s art is often so fleeting.
I may have been troubled by any one of the issues I thought life changing. Today, I recall few of those traumatic teeny-bopper problems. But, I can still visualize the night. While I have long since been free of my adolescent burdens, I remember. I didn’t feel cold. I felt both my pending freedom and a connectedness to my surrounding, to the night, and to the silence. And to the darkness, the light, the snow, and a sweet silence only night offers.
I was wearing plain old brown leather oxford shoes and white socks. My pants were a bit too short and much too snug: a style of the times. Adults thought my hair too long. It was a little greasy, and it hung down to cover part of my face. I didn’t wear a hat. My outer layer was a hand-me-down, black, Navy-surplus pea coat – unbuttoned and hanging open. The collar was up.
As I picture that night, I feel my experience. That not-to-be-forgotten night was like a photograph taken with my eyes and ears, sensed with my tongue’s taste buds. I could smell the clean crisp aroma of the night air. It is imprinted in my memory: a serene moment, fifty-some years ago. A semi-normal teenager, I realized that something remarkable was happening around me. I liked it and I wanted to share it with you.
The day’s white powder parted like a soft curtain as my feet gently led me forward. Sidewalks, streets, and any surfaces open to the sky were topped with the blueish flakes. No cars passed. The plows would not be out until early next morning.
Months before this night, trees had lost their leaves. Now, white fluff-covered bare branches stretched skyward like arms reaching to catch descending flakes. Evergreens bore much thicker and fuller sparkling white coats over their needles, a weight they endured with their strong, flexible, down-sloping boughs. I sensed a soft chill as a gentle breeze brushed the powder from trees onto me.
As snow clouds passed, I saw the clear night sky of spiritual proportions. A nearly-full moon illuminated the earth with light reflected upward by snow. Even with the light in the sky, billions of stars floated above me, while below them the sheen of fresh powder glistened. I was so young, yet I intuited the unimaginable enormity of what was around me. I could sense the sheer winter-night beauty of it all. I felt comfort in that notable moment. The night and the silence were etching a memory no artist or photographer could duplicate.
The silence was purposeful and reasoned. A quiet so intense the night air was a sharp penetrating stillness that muted other sounds. All was perfectly still. No movement, not even a hush. It was an absolute quiet: a silence so powerful I imagined intense peacefulness within me.
I stopped. Didn’t move for a long time. I listened for sounds of anything, silent sounds. I heard nothing but silence itself. Very still, breathing shallow, listening intently to what was the most peaceful moment of my life as my personal Sounds of Silence came from nature. I was with my friend Darkness, where I felt destined to be. I experienced sensual pleasure in the absolute beauty of that cold winter night.
I saw silence in the stillness as nothing moved. The world had stopped. I tasted tranquility as the clear, dry night-air slid over my tongue. As the still coolness flowed into my nose with its chilled crisp fragrance, I smelled a fresh aroma only nature could provide to a young mind open to such images. I have aged. But, this memory remains set in the mind of a teenage boy.
Slowly, I started to walk a bit farther. Then stopped again. I knew this was exceptional. Then I walked more, and I stopped again. I do not recall walking away or going home. The memory leaves me standing there, taking it in.
I didn’t know that this memory would be discovered and retrieved by my muse over half a century later. Said she, “Up now, Lad. And write in yer book, before ‘tis lost again in the disorganized gaps of your mind.”
If you have no time for the video now, please come back to watch it. It’s worth it.
Live in the present, but look both ways,
to the past for who you were, and to the future for who you’ll be.
Mind the gaps, but fill in where you can.