Walking up through deep snow after my last swim of the year, I paused under the old cedar at the turn in the driveway. I think it’s dead. It’s been dying for years. But there are lots of woodpecker holes up and down its ancient height and I’ve seen a barred owl in its upper limbs. I love the chaotic beauty of its limbs. And look how they hold the snow so gracefully, so willingly.
At this point in winter, I often try to to figure out what the year has meant to me. It hasn’t been easy, though in many ways my life has gone on the same as always. But the news fills the kitchen in the morning and in late afternoon and it hasn’t been good news. Each cycle is so dire and awful: the virus of course in all its iterations; the heat dome, the wildfires, the atmospheric rivers, the collapse of major highways in the province, and now this cold and snow, unusual for our damp and mild coast. The situation on borders as refugees assemble and attempt to cross, in Afghanistan as women are hunted down, in the English Channel and Mediterranean as rafts carrying sink with their desperate human cargo. What to do? I listen. I pay attention. If I can, I send money. I lie awake at night and wonder at our species, our capacity for compassion and ignorance and cruelty.
And what else does the year mean? I’m alive. I’m healthy. So is my husband, though he will never walk normally again after suffering an injury to his sciatic and peroneal nerves during bilateral hip surgery. But we swim, we work in our garden (barring snow), chop wood, keep our fire going. We’ve both been working on new writing and I’ve been finishing up edits on my forthcoming collection of essays, Blue Portugal. John wrote a memoir about building our house and is now trying to puzzle through his father’s experience in a POW camp during WW2. We’re not unhappy. Is it enough?
Right now in the kitchen, John is talking to two of our grandchildren, via WhatsApp, and our daughter and her partner are chiming in. Unicorns and lego and goalie equipment have been shown and admired. Laughter swirls in the air. I peek in from time to time, see their beloved faces on the tiny screen. We go on.
Tonight we’ll celebrate here, the 4 of us, with snow-chilled Prosecco and some mezes—smoked salmon, olive bread, various pickle-y things, devilled eggs, baked Brie, some tarts I’ll fashion with filo and Asiago cheese, and a luscious chocolate cake filled with ganache. But the year feels unfinished somehow, as though someone began it and then abandoned it because of design flaws or mistakes too serious to repair. Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll feel differently. The first day of a new year always has potential and I have the beautiful new wood-bound journal to guide me through it.
Early this morning I woke to snowlight in my bedroom and stars in the cold sky. I stood by the window and looked out at them, far lights through the evergreen boughs, icy and remote. I didn’t wish, What would I have hoped for? I have the things I need, people I love in my house right now, and those faces on the tiny screen. My wishes for the planet and all its inhabitants have been sent out into the dark so many times in the past year and I’m reluctant to admit it feels a little pointless to continue. Is it the stars or me? Right now there’s blue sky, nearly a foot of snow, and coyote tracks leading into our old orchard, precise as the lines I am trying to write.
Of course there is nothing the matter with the starsIt is my emptiness among themWhile they drift farther away in the invisible morningW.S. Merwin