Today is the day that I wake up and realize it isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Several things just happened that I have been dreading. The water lines froze. My husband left for a long work trip. The time changed.
Now it’s dark in our yurt as early as 6pm. My children play “Lion Rock” on my bed and wrestle at my feet in near darkness while I’m trying to put dinner on the table. This is the season of spilling things, knocking things over, bumping into things. Also, it is the season of reading aloud, whole chapters of books that the big kids beg to hear. The little one is annoyed that she doesn’t understand, Mrs. Whatsit or Gandalf, or talking rats. She actively tries to sabotage by jumping on the book or holding the kitten upside down by its hind legs.
We have a kitten. The kitten is key. For those of you who are wondering why I’ve gotten so frivolous lately on my Instagram, always talking kitten where I used to talk philosophy, this is serious business. We’re talking mental and emotional survival. Bright and cute and playful are money in the bank.
One of the collaborative sites where I write, the Mudroom, designated the theme of October, “Dread.” If that isn’t tapping into the collective unconscious, I don’t know what is. This is our ritual, that on Oct 31 we laugh at our fear of the dead and on Nov 1 we celebrate them. The wildness of October in the woods fades to a bleak but unimaginative frost.
We still have some leaves, hanging on the now visible branches, but only a few. The shape of the hills emerges from its leafy summer dress. We all long for snow. The kids, because it will be so much fun to play in, at least for seven minutes or so, before they tromp back in and cover the yurt with wet clothes; me for the sheer beauty. I am a grown up, and for a responsible party the snow is a sentence of hard labor. But still, I long for it. It’s the same color as our kitten.
These are the darkest days, November. Dark as the long night of winter, not yet lit up by the white glare of the snow. But they are quiet days, too. God knows I still have pressure like a boiling pot in my writing life, with articles and edits and directions forward literally unfathomable, not to mention navigating YouTube, a new-to-me but extremely live platform.
But writing life aside, in the real life day-to-day here, we now slow to a crawl. The sheet mulching is done, the garlic in, the chicken bedding changed, the summer garden ripped out and piled and ready to be mounded with snow. I thought the snow was maybe coming yesterday. The kids said, “Look mom, snowflakes!” I ran to make sure everything was ready. But it didn’t really come.
And so we wait.
Wait for daddy to come back from California; wait for the first snow. Wait for the daylight thaw to loose the water flow on these early winter days. Wait for midday sun to hit the solar panels. Wait for spring.
By the time the tension breaks our kitten will be grown.
Death still hovers here, from a recent grief. At the table this morning, just after having a screaming fit over a pink cup, my little one said to me, “Is your mommy dead?” I said, “Yes, honey.” (She died ten years ago.) She said, “Why do mommies have to die?” She asked over and over again, because my answers weren’t satisfactory, until her big brother said, “You’re scaring me.”
This is the best I can do. Things die. Mothers die and friends die and trees die and the little purple flowers die. But there are births, too, and new warm things, like spring and kittens.
Of course I can’t wait to have a real house and running water all year long. The clock is ticking. I can’t wait to not have to hold the tension of the seasons like a weight, drawing me into age.
But also I’m nostalgic for it already. This will be my last winter in my little round house, where the dark is dark, and seasons are not a metaphor. I’ll miss the harshness of the winter life, drawing me down, but also into groundedness, into a kind of strong reality my combustible, impulsive personality has always craved.
I’ve always found it helpful to locate my body, my real self, in a way to reflect the inner life. It helps you get integrated. It helps you catch up. It mends the brokenness. So for this I am grateful: for the death of tiny, crumbling leaves, the stillness of unyielding, frozen ground, and the collecting of our family — jostling elbows and hard questions and all — around a candlelit table in the dark.
Thanks for listening, and being our friends, dark times and lighter ones as well. You are noticed, and you matter. Thank you.
With love, from the yurt,
Esther and family, and kitten