a very real winding down

my creeks down below

I’ve never lived in a place like this — a wilderness, a solitude, a mountain valley, a quiet aloneness. And I’ve never had the luxury of a daily witnessing of the world closing up shop, shutting down, pulling inward, retracting. I’ve never had the joy of watching all of my visible nature shifting and changing from the abundance of summer to the quiet inwardness of autumn, heading inexorably toward the iron of winter.

It’s kind of astonishing to look back at my daily 1-second videos over the last few months, to see them mashed together into a 90-second video of time, of change, of seasonal shifting. Seeing it happen before my eyes in the video, seeing the mountain suddenly appear through the trees, seeing the leaves finally all fall away, seeing the bare branches presenting themselves, is a source of real wonder. I’m waiting to see the landscape buried in snow, and the brilliance of animal tracks, and being able to spot owls in the trees, and I hope the surprise of seeing porcupines in the trees, too.

Without a doubt, I’m in one of my right places in the world. I’m a person with a lot of “right” places in the world, because New York City is also a right place in the world for me — the noise of it, the closeness of it, the loud life of it. Hanoi is a right place in the world for me, so like NYC except in size. Paris is a right place in the world for me. And more like Heaventree, Laos is a right place in the world for me. I’m at home in noisy, crowded bustle and I’m at home in pure solitude. In both places, you can just be completely alone. I think that’s what I need.

my house up above, shot from the middle of the closeby creek with Marc’s beautiful steps placed in the creek for me
my chairside table — books and knitting needles and coffee, the stacks growing and growing until I have to sweep them clean and start anew

I wear this hat I knit every waking minute. 🙂 Isn’t it cute? It’s not my design — I just followed a pattern — but how I love it.

What’ve I been doing? I’ve been knitting a lot. Learning how to build good fires. Learning about the birds on my property — the black capped chickadees, the tufted titmice, the nuthatches, and now all joined by the dark-eyed juncos — learning about how they arrive, how they feed, how they share space, the rhythms of their days. Learning about the creeks, how they ebb and flow. Learning about the landscape of the Big Indian Wilderness that surrounds me, and how the end of my private road turns into this glorious path.

If I go to the end of the private road I’m on, and hike around a little jog, it turns into this — which is also the road I’m on, according to the map. WOW.

Almost every day, I walk down to my creek. If the weather is icy, or if there are hunters in my valley, I don’t — but on those days I feel a real loss. I love going down to my creek even before I’ve had my coffee, even before I’ve built a fire. I record a little video of greeting to my friends, I share the wonder of my surroundings, and then I go back up the hill to my home. Every single day, I pinch myself in wonder that this is my life, now.

Every single day I read poetry. Every single day, in this season, I build a roaring fire. Every single day I watch the birds and learn more about them. Every single day I watch the sun enter the valley behind my house, and every single afternoon I watch the long shadows as it leaves. As the weeks pass, I watch the moon wax and wane, appear and disappear. On cloudless nights, I watch the sky in big-eyed wonder — all those stars, cold and bright, shining into my eyes. All those stars, waking me up on cloudless nights. In the hard cold nights, I imagine I hear them ringing — not like bells, but like chords.

Over the weekend I put up my Christmas tree and thought about my poetry group friends in Austin, because for the last four years, I put up the tree specifically for them. Marc and I would come back home from SEAsia, I’d get back to Austin and quickly put up my tree and make a bunch of food for the Christmas get-together we shared. And so they were with me as I put up the tree, and I miss them very much. But aside from that communion with them, and aside from regular time with my daughter Katie and her kids, I don’t feel alone, here. I don’t feel lonely, here. I’m grateful for my years in Austin, where I learned that I love my own company, where I learned how to be alone, how to sleep alone in a silent house and understand the various sounds. Marc is here Friday nights through Monday afternoons, and my time with him satisfies my need to be in the physical presence of someone.

I’m happy, friends. I sit in my sunny, large, happy space and feel like it’s all come together in some way. All the roads I’ve walked, all the heres and theres, all the losses and gains, they’ve all brought me right here, to this chair, in this valley, in a place I never could’ve imagined. I know it’s not yet New Year’s Eve, but this song just so perfectly fit my mood today so I share it and hope you can hear it too.

I’m happy. I’m hidden away from the terrible world, here, but connected to friends and beautiful people all over the world. My life is so good. <3 <3

5 thoughts on “a very real winding down”

  1. What a beautiful post – thank you so much for sharing this. (I, too, just finished knitting that exact same hat, and adore it; I posted a picture on the blog…) I’m wondering if you have, by chance, read Braiding Sweetgrass? This post reminds me of something she says about becoming indigenous to a place (she acknowledges the problematics of that term; as a Potowatami, she is well aware of that), which has really resonated with me more and more as I have gotten into the habit of walking the same few trails regularly, week in, week out, season after season, year after year. It makes me deeply content to be so grounded in place.

    1. It’s such a wonderful hat, isn’t it!! I’ll have to go check out yours. I only take mine off to sleep. 🙂

      I haven’t read Braiding Sweetgrass so I’ll dash over to Amazon and get it as soon as I finish this reply. I too understand the problematics of using that word, but setting that aside it’s really the right word, isn’t it. I’ve always thought that it takes my eyes a long time to learn how to see, and once I get there, I feel an almost palpable shift — suddenly I see so many things that must’ve been there all along but I couldn’t see them. And for me, especially, gypsy me, 82 moves me, feeling grounded in a place — indigenous to it — seems like a heavenly idea. Thank you for the recommendation!

      1. I completely understand what you mean. Although I am a Californian born and bred (literally – I recently discovered that my birth mother’s family has been here for generations). Of course, twenty years of work with Native Californians means I know I am not a native californian – but my heart feels ease in open rolling hills with live oaks, and among redwoods and bay laurel, as it does nowhere else. I look forward to hearing what you think about the book!

How I love your comments. :)