A bower
There has been no sun in the sky since New Year's but the dark days have been magnificent. The sky has been covered with wonderful black clouds, the horizon has been curtained with sheets of traveling rain. The landscape has been splendidly serious. I love the strength of our woods, in this bleak weather. And it is bleak weather. Yet there is a warmth in it like the presence of God in aridity of spirit, when He comes closer to us than in consolation. On Sunday, that is on New Year's Day, I took one of the two torn raincoats that hang in the grand parlor for the use of the monks, and went out into the woods. Although I had not at first determined to do so, I found myself climbing the steepest of the knobs, which also turned out to be the highest–the pyramid that stands behind the head of the lake, and is second in line when you begin to count from the southwest. Bare woods and driving rain.
There was a strong wind. When I reached the top I found there was something terrible about the landscape. But it was marvelous. The completely unfamiliar aspect of the forest beyond our rampart unnerved me. It was as though I were in another country. I saw the steep, savage hills, covered with black woods and half buried in the storm that was coming at me from the southwest. And ridges traveled away from this center in unexpected directions. I said, "Now you are indeed alone. Be prepared to fight the devil." But it was not the time of combat. I started down the hill again feeling that perhaps after all I had climbed it uselessly.
Halfway down, and in a place of comparative shelter, just before the pine trees begin, I found a bower God had prepared for me like Jonas's ivy. It had been designed especially for this moment. There was a tree stump, in an even place. It was dry and a small cedar arched over it, like a green tent, forming an alcove. There I sat in silence and loved the wind in the forest and listened for a good while to God.
After that I quickly found my way into the gully that leads through the heart of the hills to Hanekamp's house. Hanekamp is the hermit who comes down to Mass in the secular church. He used to be a monk here. I saw him Christmas eve, kneeling at the communion rail in his black beard and he reminded me–quite unreasonably–of Bob Lax. He does not really look like Lax at all. I came home walking along the shelves of shale that form the bed of the creek. Our woods are beautiful. The peace of the woods almost always steals over me when I am at prayer in the monastery.