All was still at 5,000 feet in late December high above the din of traffic and normal going-ons of regular life in the Sierra Nevada’s Stanislaus National Forest, save the quaint flurries drifting and dampening all sound.
Before that tranquil moment, snow had only fallen on my head and around me once before in Washington, D.C. for about an hour for a grand total of about two inches. But it wasn’t the crunch, slosh or refreshing nature of icy precipitation that captured my breath among the towering redwoods.
It was the silence.
The absolute absence of sound as far as my ears could detect gave me the meaning of tranquility as snowflakes, big or small gently congregated on the treetops and forest floor.
I grew up on a 12-acre ranch on the Central Coast of California with a relatively vacant highway at a far distance.
There were more stars that littered the sky than city lights from a vista traveling eastbound on the 118 Freeway above Los Angeles. And I thought I knew the meaning of quietude.
But I was wrong.
I never felt more alone and crowded at the same time before snow begun to descend from the colossal cumulonimbus clouds above.
It was a spiritual moment, really: the immense trees of Calaveras Big Trees State Park looming above in commanding solitude whilst tiny flurries floated around, painting God’s creation a pure white like a reset button was hit to renew the forest’s integrity and my troubled soul.
Psalm 46:10 says (in part), “Be still and know that I am God.” The meaning of the passage is viewed in a number of ways, but I believe the Hebrew meaning is to express the overwhelming peace entrenched in God’s character often highlighted by nature.
Such was that moment in the snow when I felt the presence of God and an unexplainable peace settle all around, as if He was telling me to be still, be in awe of the glory of nature and know the gentle facet of His nature represented in the scenery.
Beyond the silence and transcendental moment I was enveloped in, like a child.
I was fascinated like most are during their first encounter with the dipping and swaying bits of snow from the sky.
I munched on snow (after I checked the color first), sucked on icicles and practiced chucking snowballs at my dad, walking further up the trail.
As I was told by my friends from Alaska, who treat snow like Southern Californians treat sunshine, the weather was surprisingly warm for the snowfall-like precipitation.
Most precipitation comes about via warm fronts in the atmosphere where the edge of a moving mass of warm air rises over and replaces a withdrawing mass of cooler air.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, as the the warm air rises, it cools and the water vapor in it condenses, usually forming steady rain, sleet, or snow.
So as it fell at a constant rate, the weather was warm and comfortable.
At one point, I dove into a mound of fresh powder and closed my eyes, verging on the edge of a nap that would have soothed my aching muscles after a long-fought snowball fight with my dad and brother-in-law.
And like a child, even at 22 years old, I stood in awe of the majesty of the big trees, attempting to catch snowflakes on my tongue and making snow angels on the ground.
But again, the most important thing I kept in memory was the refreshing and placid atmosphere high in the Sierra Nevada mountains that provided peace after a long semester.