By Bob Grindle
The early Christmas Eve conversation with an old friend who happened to stop by the house reached escape velocity before either of us realized what was happening. It had started innocently enough with a bit of the reminiscing this season is so fabled for…the winter wonderland memories and fantasies that so many of our generation hightail it south to avoid but seem so abundantly to populate our recall of the good times…once upon a time! We hadn’t seen each other in several months and after a bit of catch-up, a sharp comment from this longtime friend about losing a son to right-wing conspiracy theories and what sort of world will our generation be leaving to our children and grandchildren spilled out onto the conversational floor as if a secret compartment of some sort had suddenly broken open. My own sense of optimism for the long-term survival of our species exists despite deep and troubling concerns about homo sapiens’ flaws, so after a couple of quick conversational k-turns we said our goodbyes and merry Christmases.
Our son, daughter-in-law and grandson recently set out to a nearby tree farm to cut their annual Christmas tree and the picture they took of that tiny, short-lived moment in time reminds me of why hope for the future is every bit as much alive as it has ever been…and why somewhere in even the smokiest, bluesiest, jazz corner of the saddest lament we might have ever imagined, there is a spark of human spirit that refuses to grow cold.
The mid-afternoon walk we set off on across this late December landscape feels almost derelict. How did things get to be such a mess? We have lived on this hillside long enough to have met the beast that breathes in nature’s dishevelment. The forces that haunt the lyrical distractions of wind and rain and atmospheric banshees wailing through the darkening, leafless and sodden forests of our scoured and moss-strewn bit of glacial retreat are as old as Earth, as fresh as dawn and as familiar as the sound of our own breathing. Does the swirling crowd of sky dancing clouds celebrate our success at surviving this tempest-tossed slip-slide called life or simply revel in their superior Cosmology—Egyptian-like, perhaps—understanding there is divinity in everything, from seasonally suspended milkweed para-seeds to rain fueled hillside trail washouts and mummified ash trees shedding their decay like woodland zombies?
Across the saturated wetland that just a few months ago we called a lawn, this afternoon’s walk leads us downhill toward the naturally occurring springs that have never failed to supply our water, sweet and pure, in more than a half century of tending to and mending the wounds and fractures of this soggy hillside. More pathways beckon but are littered with a feud of fallen trees and branches that the twilight casts in ghostly and ghastly shapes and shadows and caution calls a halt to our ramble. We head back toward the house as the distant drone of the generator chuckles at our pioneering fantasies. Fifty years ago, after the December 1973 ice storm—recently wed and having just moved into our first house—without a generator or a care in the world, we reveled in the quiet beauty of an eastern Connecticut hillside we had just met. As the sound of the generator grows nearer and the flickering lights of the house offer their welcoming glow, it occurs to me that the universe keeps offering our species the same lessons over, and over and over again…in different ways perhaps…I hope we master them soon.
The wind is increasing a bit as dark settles in and these raw and bone rattling days when the rain seems almost eternal make our human nesting practices seem worth the effort. Something about the dark woods all around us make the thought of January’s full Wolf Moon seem even more chilling than normal and our pace toward the house quickens. I nod to Orion and Taurus as they begin to twinkle into view and smile to think that Jupiter will strut its stuff across the night sky as the Cosmos—in its cold, dark and implacable way—expands violently without a sound.
Back in the house the light of the Moon is enchanting and thoughts of sound and fury fade in the face of evening chores. Despite concerns about the future of our species, I feel encouraged that the hard work of fixing things is in our own hands and that is a good thought to wrap up a late afternoon walk as 2023 comes to an end. Enjoy the coming season when our New England landscape rests up for it Spring Fling.