Well here we are facing a “new” year. The whole business with the Mayan calendar ending and the misdirected interpretation that it foretold the apocalypse (the fact that our own calendar runs out this time every year not withstanding) did not play out. Yes folks a whole, shiny, brand-spanking-baby-ass new year all full of hope and promise, fiscal cliffs and ludicrous arguments over gun laws, agonizing overseas wars with no obvious direction, violent armed squabbles over who owns this land or that and who has the right to do what to whom and how and when. Seems like the same old crap to me.
But hey that is the world we live in; does not mean we have to dwell on it though.
This time of year is good for reflection I suppose. All attempts at arbitrary temporal measurements aside, in my little corner of the world it is the deepest part of winter and the oncoming new “year”, if nothing else, means the return of the sun. But of course the various traditions with which we are steeped in this time of year suggest something more. Whether one chooses to focus on the astronomical phenomena, the somewhat arcane business of the birth of wee “Baby J”, or attempting to assess whether or not old friends should be forgot, the air is full of reflection. Then there is the odd idea that with the promise of a whole new year we need to resolve ourselves into doing something different than what we have been doing. Hogwash.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for self improvement… and plenty of personal reflection for that matter. That said, deciding that one must do these things now because it is this particular time of year is nonsense. If you want to remember and/or reconnect with old friends and family do it whenever the feeling comes over you. If you want to be kind to strangers or give to charities do it all year long. If you want to change the way you are living don’t resolve to do it…just frakin’ do it. You know you won’t stick to those silly new years “resolutions” anyway.
Yet, there is something inspiring about this time of year…perhaps. I went for a glorious ski yesterday. The conditions were near perfect; the trails were mostly clean and solid, the snow was great, the temperature was warm but not too much so, and just moments after I started out I rounded a bend and the mid-afternoon light (high noon here remember) was near-literally glowing in the tops of the birch trees. For a moment I felt as if I could fly. I skied hard for the next hour or so, exalting in the remarkable conditions and was in wont of nothing more than that experience in that moment. I realize that those conditions could have come together on nearly any winter day, but perhaps my mind would not have been in the right space to marvel quite so much had I not been spending time reflecting on life as much as I have of late. Who knows.
Similarly, I accompanied my girlfriend to a party on solstice just over a week ago now. I have been to solstice parties before; all mulled wine and bonfires where various food and sweets abounded. Yet none quite like this one. In part it was the unique particulars of the people, the food and drink, the place…or perhaps –like my ski yesterday- it was the coalescence of the particular uniqueness of all of the various elements and how they melded together in that moment. It was a -40 degree night, or very nearly so and the party was being held in one of the colder parts of town. There was no bonfire planned and admittedly I was thankful for that. Certainly I am a great fan of bonfires, but in that kind of severe temperature they offer a somewhat false sense of security. You stand too close trying to stay warm and keep your drink from freezing all the while singeing your eyebrows, melting your fleece jacket, and subsequently freezing your arse.
Anyways, there was a hand drawn map that had directions (written only) on how to get to the property. The map itself was a quaint sketch of the property on which the party would take place. It involved trails and cabins and a large clearing. Well, “cabin” is not really the right term here. There were four domiciles involved, each one unique in its own right. We happened to be the first to arrive and thus had the somewhat dubious (but ultimately enjoyable) pleasure of assisting in lighting and dispersing the luminaries. For those of you unfamiliar these are hollow vessels made of ice within which is placed a candle, thus creating an outdoor lantern. Fabulous things really, but lighting nearly a hundred of them not much bigger than softballs at -40 got to be a bit trying…but it was worth it.
Once lit, the luminaries were placed along a series of rabbit warren-esque trails winding through the woods up, down, and across the face of a generally south-facing slope upon which (and in certain cases dug into) were strewn said domiciles. The map, in point of fact, not only illuminated the lay of the land and the course along which the evening and consequently the party-goers were to follow, but also certain intriguing highlights of the property. For instance, the first destination was “Hobbit –hole #1”. This was followed by the “Ski-hut”, Hobbit-hole #2”, the “Festival of lights”, and finally the “Big House”. Even had I not been invited I would have wanted to go to this party.
The hobbit holes were indeed dug into the side of the hill and in the immortal words were not “nasty, dirty, wet…nor dry, bare, sandy hole[s]” but rather quite comfortable, partially subterranean “cabins”. I will not go into the architectural particulars but there were two completed and occupied and a third under construction. The “ski-hut” was a fantastic three story building, tall and narrow and custom built in every aspect. As the evening progressed and more people began to arrive the party would amble from one unique structure to the next, crowding into the mostly tiny spaces, eating such elaborate and unusual dishes as caribou tartare, bacon wrapped dates, babaganoush –all fresh and home-made- only to be washed down with home-made beers and wines and/or local (or at least Alaskan) made beers, ciders, and meads.
We then went to the base of the ridge, down a somewhat treacherous, narrow, winding pathway from “Hobbit-hole #2” to the “Festival of Lights” where one of the hosts stood in knee deep snow at -40 reminding us all of the realities and benefits of reflection on -and reverence for- this time of year. We then lit and launched Chinese paper lanterns, either letting go of our past year’s troubles or releasing hopes and dreams for the coming year. Once all were aloft and drifting on the cold –bitter cold- air, we made our way up to the “Big House”. As seemed somewhat fitting for the whole affair, this house, also hand built and incredibly unique, was the abode of the penultimate hosts of the whole affair. You see, the other three buildings are rentals, inhabited by young, local folks…people with an alternative frame of mind; and these were the primary organizers. The main house was inhabited by the lords of the land, kindly lords that lived in their self-built manor. It was like an old historic farmstead built of local, likely hand hewn logs, local flag stones for the floor, a great hall with a flagstone fireplace in the corner and a table and benches that would likely seat a dozen or more, mulled wine and spiced cider in vats on the wood stove. All in all it was a rather remarkable experience and reminds me yet again why I have grown to love living here in the ‘banks.
Christmas eve I went to midnight mass. It was probably the only “traditional” event for me this season, but that is more than most for me. As elucidated in previous ramblings I have not many traditions upon which I might hang my hat. So to speak. I do not really long for family “get togethers” this time of year. Sure I miss my family but again, that is something that can -and does- happen any time of the year. I do not have reason to reserve it for mid-winter. Of late I am more inclined to be pining for warm climes…toes in the sand and that sort of thing. But I think that might be changing. A lot of my life seems to be changing of late, almost as if I have been picked up by the ankles and held upside down to shake out all of the nonsense. So to speak.
Should be interesting to see where this road leads…time to go exploring.