First published in January 2004
We decided to spend a week in Vermont skiing with our family, but today my muscles are sore and the wind is bitter cold. Last night we listened to the wind whip down the mountainside, shaking the house as it rushed past. Just before midnight we turned out the lights and watched as it swayed the trees under the moonlight. The sky was filled with stars and the half moon shone bright, casting dark shadows across the snow.
I thought of wolves that might be hiding in the woods beyond the field, but the only sound we could hear was the wind. This morning the wind still blows, but the house is warm and smells of hot coffee. I’m not sure where the idea came that the New Year is a time for reflection, for casting one’s mind both back and forward, but that’s exactly what I feel like doing today.
There is one New Year’s in particular that stands out from my childhood. It was just after we lost our farm and had moved into an old stone farmhouse that our neighbours (who used it as their summer home) had offered us when they heard the bad news. I was almost 11-years-old. That Christmas was quiet and the rain forced us inside. After Christmas the rain turned to snow and hail.
By New Year’s Eve a thick layer of ice had formed over the surface of the snow and as the day wore on, the sky cleared and the temperature dropped. We all stayed up until midnight playing board games while my parents talked with friends in front of a roaring fire. I’m guessing they consumed many bottles of wine because just before midnight someone suggested howling at the moon. We bundled up and went out into the cold night, the snow crunching under our feet. The old apple trees around us, with withered branches reaching to the stars, looked like witches frozen in the moonlight. We climbed to the top of a hill, following quietly in single file, the men breaking a trail until we reached the crest. From there we looked down on the farm where we’d spent 10 years of our lives. It was the only home my brother and I had known.
The wall of stone that we’d all worked to build carved a straight path beside the fields we had cleared of stones each summer. We could see the woods where my brother and I had built dozens of forts. We could see the house our parents had built with their own hands, every wall and cement block they had set. But the lights in the windows reminded us of the other family now living there. Suddenly my father began to howl and we all joined in like wolves. We howled for our home, our land and our loss.
But then someone began to laugh and we were all laughing. I remember it so clearly, a reflection of how we learned to deal with life. At that moment we all decided to let go of our home. We took one last look at our farm, turned and trudged back down that moonlit field. Each of us broke our own path through the ice-crusted snow. We spoke of our dreams for the future.
I was going to marry Prince Charming and live on a farm in the country. I was going to spend my life raising our six children and writing books. I planned on making huge dinners where our family would all be together forever and always. Life hasn’t turned out quite the way I’d pictured it. Although I did find my Prince Charming and I’ve done a bit of scribbling.
Getting my sisters and brothers all together is harder than I could ever have imagined as a child. But back then, I never thought our family would be scattered across the country. When I think of my future I don’t envision it with the same clarity I had as a child. Time has taught me that circumstance is part of life and that I can’t know with any accuracy where I might be in one year, let alone 10 years. And it’s also taught me to live each moment to its fullest, to have passion for all that I do and to keep my curiosity alive.
I’ve come to believe that passion drives our imagination and that curiosity leads us out into the world. In the year ahead I want to wake the passion that has been lulled by my busy life. I want to untangle myself from the distractions our society has created, like television, movies and sporting events. Instead of producing beauty in the world, they get used up in consuming various things. There are so many things that could distract me from accomplishing something with my life – spas, shopping centers and outlet malls, dance clubs, casinos, golf, Bingo and bowling – the list seems endless. The world is filled with distractions.
There are pills to numb our pains and barrels of alcohol to put us to sleep. They can fill the empty spaces in a passionless solitary life. But do all these distractions hinder the passion and imagination in a life that isn’t solitary? Could they be interfering in my life with my husband? We don’t get drugged up, go to dance clubs or play much Bingo, although we do enjoy skiing and tennis and movies and a host of other entertainments. Sometimes it’s a struggle to find moments that really count, moments that help us focus, enhancing our curiosity and stirring our dreams, like dusk at the cottage, a walk in the woods, an early morning kayak or a winter evening in front of a roaring fire, but something tells me that those are the times we must reach for.
In the year ahead I plan to slow down and explore the world with the curiosity I had as a child. I’ll re-kindle my passion, awaken my imagination and once again burst with excitement over the sight of a fresh snowfall or the smell of spring in the air.