Where Do You Feel Most Welcome?

Did you ever want to step into a painting? Or into an illustration in a book? When I was a growing up, book illustrations could draw me in until I could almost smell the forest, hear the waves, or feel the breeze. I could imagine myself in the setting, a staging ground for adventures to come.

I had that same experience Thursday night in the art class I attend. One of my friends painted a large mural of abstract brown, green, and blue sections overlaid with a forest of bare trees. As I studied her painting, I found myself wanting to walk into it, to hike over the abstract hills and find out where the adventure would take me. The word that came to mind was welcome. The painting welcomed me. It invited me in.

That word – welcome – winked at me again from one of Mary Oliver’s essays in Upstream. She says, “There is a rumor of total welcome among the frosts of the winter morning.” Again, I saw bare trees, this time sparked with frost. I actually didn’t have to imagine it. I could just look out my windows and see the real thing.

Sometimes I think of my windows as ever-changing paintings, framing nature and the comings-and-goings of my community. In the snow and ice and bitter cold of last week, those comings-and-goings were minimal. My community is not accustomed to – or prepared for – a thick blanket of ice and snow, whereas my Norwegian daughter-in-law grew up where winter was an invitation to put on boots or skis and to enjoy the outdoors.

I, on the other hand, grew up in West Texas, where most of the year is warm, even hot. We did have “blue northers” blow in during the colder months. I remember crossing my college campus head down against a wind so strong and icy that it felt as if it might cut right through me. Years later, I studied for my master’s degree in Vermont. The January that I graduated, snowdrifts piled up as high as West Texas hills, icicles were as big around as my upper arm and hung from roof almost to the ground. My friends and I crossed the quad with every inch of ourselves – except our eyes – bundled in multiple layers, braving the steel-cold air to get to the dining hall.

As good poets often do, Mary Oliver gives a new slant to the chilly winter landscape. Welcome. I tend to think of spring as the welcoming season. But Mary Oliver invites me into winter. This week, a friend said that she loves winter-bare trees, because they reveal their true shape, their curves and angles. I enjoy the patterns they make silhouetted against the sky. Lace. Lattice. The branches catch the splash of sunrise and the glow of sunset. And yes, the frost. “There is a rumor of total welcome among the frosts of the winter morning.”

Welcome comes from two Old English words: will, meaning want or desire, plus cuman, meaning to come. I will you to come. So welcome is not an off-handed, “We’re open; feel free to enter,” but an earnest, “Come in! You are wanted here.”

In every age, there are people who say, in essence, “We welcome only people who are like us,” meaning like us in social status or race or political views or religious beliefs. Or all the above. Sometimes before we welcome people, we require them to change to suit us. But that’s backward. Change doesn’t work that way. We welcome people first, and then change begins . . . perhaps in us as well. Because each of us has something the other needs. But we’ll never discover it without welcome.

Total welcome, writes Mary Oliver of the winter frost. Is nature the only place we can find total welcome? Where do you most feel welcome? It’s a great treasure. How can you extend that treasure to family, friends, and the people you meet each day? How can you welcome those who need it most?


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Text and photos of windows and trees © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Other photos courtesy pexels.com.