The temperature reached a balmy 1-degree so I thought a walk was in order. New England’s tender pouch is presently being crushed in the hands of some angry, Norse deity of bitterness and frozen misery. Cabin fever is real, which says a lot considering the miracle of WiFi and food delivery services. I layered again and again, transforming myself into something resembling the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. This is what it must be like on Everest, I reasoned. Except climbers have it easy—they just have to live, they don’t have chip their cars free from glaciers only to find their newly cleaned parking spot snagged by some jerk with a foot of snow on his roof. Right. It’s too early in the season to feel this crotchety about the weather. A walk.

One of the many articles I had anxiously read about DANGEROUSLY COLD TEMPS cheerfully informed me that it only took thirty minutes for frostbite to set in on any exposed skin. Noted. The meter was running as I lumbered out of the house and onto the dirt road. Weighted down with snow, the pine trees bowed their heads as if in deep contemplation. Tentative deer tracks scored the soft gullies of snow on the side of the road.

I kept a brisk pace, for survival’s sake (see first graph re. Everest. Climbers: we are one) more than anything else. Somewhere between trying to take in some of the majestic winter views and trying not to slip and break a hip, I glanced down to see the pine cone and pine branch all buddied up heart-shaped style. Was I at the thirty-minute mark? Frost bite be damned! I unearthed my phone and quickly clicked.

I’ve been “capturing” hearts for a long time now. They reveal themselves in rocks, cracks in the pavement, clouds, leaves, shadows, baked goods, in the froth of lattes (standard), and even in bits of trash fused together (love is gross, never forget that). In short: hearts are everywhere, literally everywhere. I never search for them. Pinky swear. They just seem to be there, “waiting, silently for me” as the forefathers of emo, Simon and Garfunkel famously crooned.

This heart caught me in a different way than any of the others. There was a yin-yang quality to it that I had never seen before, or at least, never so perfectly represented—opposites joined in harmony. Back inside and thawed out, a spin around “the Google” revealed that a pine tree contains both male and female “parts.” Whatever counts as “male” is identified as leafy, ferny, or piney, if you will. The “female” is the cone, which unsurprisingly contains the tree’s seeds. Even in the forest, a woman’s work is never done.*

More than just an obvious “male/female” thing, the pairing made me think about the uniqueness we all carry and often either take for granted or attempt to repress in order to “fit” with someone else, to belong in someone else’s world and life. This, I believe, is very much no bueno.

We can buy the Hallmark Channel rom-com malarky that we’re on a quest to find someone’s heart that mirrors our own (or make our heart parrot whatever is in theirs) or we can hip ourselves to what nature already knows: our hearts need the co-mingling of different energies to thrive. We need levity and depth; softness and rigidity; expanse and borders. Hearts are built. They are designed for perpetual renovation. They open up to rooms upon rooms upon rooms. They want to include, incorporate, to invite the other to share space.

What a simple and marvelous architecture, lying there at my feet, arrested by the snow, hushed by the arctic air, but also so very warm and alive.



*Here’s something fun: Next time you’re out for a hike in the woods with friends, stop and gather up the pine cones you find on the ground. When they ask what you’re doing, smile and say, “I’M SAVING THE BABIES!” This is a great way to get out of having to hike in the woods with friends.



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