There’s an exquisite blue-white glaze on the pond. Even after the little thaw it is still rock solid. There was a tractor making a hockey rink out there yesterday. It is a sparkly patch of beauty in a whole winter quilt full of them.
I love this time of year when the novelty of the snow has not worn thin and the glittering icy branches in the woods make everyone think of sleigh rides, fireside suppers and roasted marshmallows. Christmas in Vermont is a sweet time. It has all the warm smells and shiny woods and jingly bells that you may imagine was what they must have been thinking about when they invented the whole Christmas vibe. It is one of the good reasons to be alive I think. Christmas. And we get the first rate designer version up here.
I have only had five or six really exciting or memorable Christmases in my life. Most of them sort of run together in a happy blur of lobster potpies, shimmering trees, and plates and plates of gooey chocolate things. Every once in while though you get one of those memorable ones. Sometimes it is a darker memory like a family flu which can leave some definitive messy memories, or the death of someone well loved and close. But more often it has been the birth of a new baby, or a much loved Christmas puppy, a wedding, or even a new love. Once it happened on Christmas Eve on the drive home from Grandma’s house. We saw a small herd of deer in a swirling snowstorm and our kids were little enough to be sure we were racing home just ahead of Santa and his reindeer. One year it was a long walk in the snowy woods with all the animals and the people I love best and there was a run of moments that afternoon of serenity and grace. We were sitting on a log in an apple orchard filled with snow. The dogs running joyfully and exploring, and the little creek was running fast, making a wonderful watery symphony that was the only sound besides the snow crunching underneath the dog’s paws. It is one of those times when there was nothing more that needed to be done or it was too late to do whatever still needed doing anyway and I got a quick jolt of real peace. I was flooded with calm. I remember it because that gentle calm feeling is not one I have very often. I moved to Vermont I think in part in search of it. John and I wanted to live closer to the natural world. And we do. It’s rhythms define our lives up here in a way that makes us feel connected and grounded. But the calm, the “peace that passeth understanding”, is still a rare treat. That Christmas walk is a memory that lasts.
You can’t really plan for the exciting bits or the memorable moments. They sneak up on you and your job is just to stop whatever else you may be doing and be present. Every year I make a whole passel of new year’s resolutions. These are really just the backstory of my annual plans. I have been doing them for years. I always like to see which things hit the lists year after year. Those are either the things I really don’t want to do, or the ones I cannot fathom how to do. Like the one that showed up for a few years about reducing all the swearing. The thing is, I like to swear.
Those pledges are not part of my real life.
But the others, the trips and plans for my things I want to do as my kid’s mom or as John’s wife, those things are part of the real narrative of our lives. Just before I make my new list I always write a review of the one from the year before. Sometimes I have skipped big chunks of the list because something else comes along and takes precedence ever every single other thing. But mostly I accomplish the things on my lists. That’s how we had Eli, got to Vermont, and went to Italy with all the kids.
So this year I intend to make room for the quiet moments, the ones you remember…to happen. While I think it is true that you really can’t plan for that sweet moment when all of your kids are sitting in the living room with you on Christmas Day in front of the fire and you and your husband realize at the same moment that you should put down your books and enjoy this accidental coming together. It is one of those moments when the conversation is about where and when you would live if you could choose anyplace in any time period. The conversation meanders and ebbs and flows for a while and then pretty soon everyone is headed back to their own lives where they will carry that afternoon and those moments with them like a warm blanket. These things happen of their own volition, but I think you can do the prep work that makes them more probable. You can schedule quiet walks up Mt Tom, or invite everybody for supper when you are still kneading the bread, or maybe build a giant bonfire and call everyone after it is roaring at ten o’clock on a Sunday night. Surprise. Come over. Like that.
I am going to schedule in days when the only thing on the calendar is to get the quilt out to the yard and then see what happens. And I am going to keep them duty free. Those are always the days of my life when the best stuff happens. And Instead of running around like a squirrel doing a load of laundry while the water boils and making a call while I fold it, and then answering a few emails on my iPhone while I wait for the prescriptions to get filled I am going to plan some empty spots and just see what happens.
Resolution number one: schedule at least one empty day per month and see what happens…..
Who knows maybe I will even see those reindeer again.