Everything is dying.
My heart sank in my chest as my eyes took in the barren landscape.
All color had drained from the world to pool in rusty puddles at the base of the trees, skeletal and stark against the gray cloak of the sky. A bitter wind rattled through their bony fingers, rasping as it burbled through the heaps of crumbling leaves that skittered across the trail at our feet.
So this is winter, I thought despairingly.
My camera sagged at the end of its strap, useless against this monochromatic canvas.
Yet my eyes were restless, searching, drinking in the desolate scene.
I have seen it before, the rising from the dark, my memory called. There is light here. There is. You simply must find it.
So my finger remained poised on the shutter as my boots scuffled through gravel and mud, scraping over rocks bitten deep with ice. My shoulder brushed past brittle leaves curled tight, helpless in the grip of some black malice.
Even my breath painted the world gray, puffs of life evaporating thin as smoke.
But all I saw was the same pale sky, shadowing everything dreary.
Where is God in all of this? I wondered. Where is the life, the hope, the beauty?
A keen winter gale roared suddenly across the valley, stinging my exposed fingers and face as it throttled the forest giants around me. They swayed under its attack, their deep, wooden groans splintering my heart with fear.
If even the trees cannot stand here, how can I survive? I thought, my heart hammering against my ribs, my breath frozen in my lungs.
Then long-forgotten words awoke inside me and breathed strength into my limbs. I braced myself against the wind, bit through my fear, and lifted my eyes to the sky, defiant.
And now comes the whisper, said my soul.
For a moment, the wind ceased its mocking song. The trees still danced in its phantom embrace, but the rest of the valley grew still.
And there, through the trembling branches of the trees, I caught a glimpse of gold.
There is light even here, said a voice deep in my soul. Open your eyes, daughter. I am here.
Across the ashen canvas of the sky, a single golden ray spilled its warmth into the clouds.
Its color dripped slowly down into the woods, spreading like watercolor, tinging everything with hope.
When the wind resumed its howling, it seemed muted somehow, tamed by the golden light. The trees no longer seemed afraid, their quivering dance almost graceful.
The ache in my fingers was all but forgotten as I raised my camera to my face, my smile smudging the screen.
Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light, said my soul, as if it had known all along. There is light even here.