Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dispatch from the Blue Mountains

Things look much better from this side of January 1.

There's nothing like fresh air to clear one's thinking, so Michael and I booked some time for ourselves in a cabin up in the mountains, to try to find a little peace before the start of a very difficult semester. It's an amazing spot, tucked into the side of a granite hill just a few minutes' walk from the Appalachian Trail, and it's everything one could hope for in a mountain retreat: cozy bedroom, working fireplace, fully stocked kitchen, a zillion Legos in the loft. Just a few hours here and the cares of the world fade away. Like ice on a burn, their sting isn't gone, just numbed and made distant and stripped of its power to affect what's really important in my life.

We took a long walk this morning on the freshly fallen snow, bundled up to our eyes in winter gear, the first creatures to leave any footprints. It was incredibly cold but clear with a bright, thin sun overhead and a freezing wind creaking through the bare branches. We collected kindling and built up a blazing fire when we got back, which we've kept burning all afternoon and into the night. Looking into the white-hot glow of the charcoal we've built up, I suddenly appreciate how humankind was able to melt iron --- and feel a great upswelling of sympathy for sand about to be fused into glass.

As bleak as the world is, as unforgivably cold and lonesome as things are up here and as fraught with difficult choices as my life are back at home, an overwhelming sense of peace pervades me whenever I'm in front of that fire. We've watched it for hours now, occasionally adding a log, occasionally stirring to take the other's hand, all without saying a word, without needing to. In that silence, the difficult choices resolve themselves into oblivion; the cold and loneliness melt away. I can focus on what I have, not what I lack. There's no shortage of wood, or warmth, or wine. I can cook good food, and eat good chocolate, and read Sherlock Holmes and Lord of the Rings with my feet propped up on the hearth. I have wool socks, a roof over my head, steady and meaningful work, and the ability to discern a sparrow from a mockingbird. I have the respect of good friends, the support of a good family, the love of a good man. And no matter what happens, no matter what goes right or what goes wrong, these are things that I cannot and will not lose.

I don't ask for the path to be easy. I just ask for a way to know what's truly important before I set off on my way.