by Dave Harrity
Each winter, I’m walking outside when a snow storm begins. It’s a little arrangement I have with the season—I show up and so does it; we usually meet in a field, lingering in the gray quiet alone. We move through the air together, everything aligned. The bright, furiously elegant silence—a stunning array of white, driving thickness. I’m thankful for this appointment: it helps me open my eyes and really see, to remember that grace is a gift to the world that is free.
Over the years I’ve noticed that there are certain landscapes that make their way into my work. My poems, stories, and essays are often centered around forests and fields, and the line where the two worlds meet. Those are my totem landscapes—the edge of mystery where the world unlocks itself, where I commune, where beautiful shadows of forgiveness and grace stir.
One walk in late February years ago, it happened. When winter and I had our little meeting, I was on the cusp of a huge change: I was about to become a father for a second time. I went out to clear my head and give my dogs their daily run. Gray afternoon sunlight, the two animals off their leashes and running randomly in a field, chasing their own trails. Just a call and they’d pant back to me.
I was making my way up a shallow knoll and around a small pond when the sky opened, bellowed snow. The annual pattern unbroken—I shouldn’t have been surprised, but was. I kept walking toward a fence line a few hundred yards off. Once there, I stared into a stand of trees down a long hill, a stone’s throw beyond me. The dogs were far in the opposite direction, diving playfully at one another. I began thinking of my unborn boy who would arrive in only a few weeks—his waiting, his small breathing, his forming hands. I tried to think about what name we would give him.
Then to my right, out from a bend and another congregation of trees, three horses emerged. One stag—huge hindquarters and shoulders, coal-black, a truly massive animal—and two smaller offspring—speckled white and brown, with kind eyes.
Against the fence, they lined up facing me—a child on either side of the father, staring at me through the flakes. I looked down, intimidated, and saw that the dogs had come to mirror the position, one on either side of me. It would have been comical if the quiet of the moment had not been so resonant and clear—a deep gulch around all of us like the calm in a church between the clanging bells to call people to morning prayer. Our breaths visible in air, exchanges of unobtrusive and surreal connectivity—no barks, grunts, or noises of awe—just clear faces through the snow, realizing all together that our world—this world you’re sitting in right now—is bigger than what’s seen, any force, trend, event, or sin.
There’s a pulse in this world that’s always present just below our surface, if only we’d take time enough to touch the skin over our wrists. It’s a song we all sing—one hidden hymn of God. And the voice of this song is right where our attentions collide with God’s attentions. We’re all singing inside the body of God, our voices ringing clear in God’s ears.
The horses broke away—turned around and galloped from our gathering, back toward the bare woods scattered in snowfall. The dogs and I stood stunned, not knowing where to go next, now that our connections to one another had been exposed. And I felt a strange newness, a reckless reassurance—as if I was feeling whole for the first time in a long time. The words of the psalmists rang in me: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (51:7).
I remember my first thought after the stillness broke: this is what it must be like inside the womb—safe, still, a complete breath of peace. A strange and surprising thought, but real. A collision between what is and is to come, where we wait anticipating nothing, not knowing somehow that our perception is going to shift, grow, radically explode.
All the beasts and one song—all of us whole, seeing the beauty in the world God has rescued. Our lives near colliding: a boy about to begin, a father’s opening eyes. So holy is this world that maybe it’s singing right along with us, even if we mistake it and ourselves as voiceless.