For Christmas this year, and for the sanity of the adults involved, we decided to buy my nephews presents as usual but draw names for each other. My dad was the lucky soul who drew me, and he won the day by getting me exactly what I most wanted: a camping hammock.
The only problem with getting a hammock for Christmas is that there’s still a lot of winter to wait through before you can use it. But, thanks to the temperate nature of the mid-Atlantic, my own temperance soon paid off, and I was able to set up my present last weekend during a hiking trip my partner and I took on Sugarloaf Mountain.
If you don’t have a hammock, get one. You can easily find inexpensive ones that do the job well; no need to get a super fancy one. Then all you have to do is learn a good knot or two, let tension and gravity do the rest, and you’ll be swinging in paradise in under five minutes.
sit under milky way sky
permitting the dark circle
beyond ember glow
* * *
This unseasonably warm weather has been taunting me almost more than I can bear. All I think about is the quiet crackle of firewood, crackle of frying eggs, crackle of leaves being stepped on gently by forest friends. When can I go back?
Sharp scissors scraping
Endlessly to make blazing
Christmas ribbon curls
* * *
Christmas at my grandmother’s house was an over-the-top, magical miracle for us grandkids (my adult family would perhaps agree with only the first descriptor). You cannot even dream of the number of Christmas-themed stuffed animals and nutcrackers that littered the house. I have yet to see as many presents addressed to me sitting under a tree as I did for many years as a child, nor have I helped wrap as many.
You see, Nanny loved to cook and decorate and shop for her family, securing a line of brilliant hostesses behind her, but she tended to take on more than she could carry. So, she would employ her young granddaughters in the wrapping of all the gifts she hadn’t quite gotten to by the time Christmas night rolled around. We would sit together on the big bed in the Red Bedroom (so called after the solid scarlet hue of the 70s-style full carpeting in those quarters), surrounded by gifts, paper, and ribbons, and we would get to work.
It occurs to me now that this must have been a thought-through strategy. I’m pretty sure she always wrapped our presents first, so that when she ran out of time for wrapping, only the boys’ gifts were left, and we could finish the job without spoiling our own surprises.
Nanny’s big claim to fame is ribbon curls. Each present had dozens and dozens of ribbon curls, and there were dozens and dozens of presents, so you do the math. She taught us at a very early age how to do it, carefully tying many ribbon pieces of different colors in a crisscross pattern, and then one-by-one sliding the blade of a pair of scissors along the bottom of each piece, until you were left with an explosion of shiny, colorful curlicues – often dwarfing the present underneath.
With so many beautifully wrapped presents (and, let’s be honest, some badly wrapped ones done by a few eight year olds), perhaps the most striking thing about the whole event was not the sheer number of packages, but the love, beauty, and detail put into the wrapping itself.
Sweating through sweatshirt
But shivering in shadows
That October sun
* * *
Today I stood in line to vote. It’s chilly – when in the summer we kept the door between the kitchen and the rest of the apartment closed to keep the heat out, now we’ve started closing it to keep out the cold. I didn’t wear a coat, but it was brisk enough for a sweatshirt. While I was standing in line outside the senior center where early voting is being held, the strong autumn sun beat down on our civically-minded heads. My upper body started to sweat, and I heard a couple older ladies talking behind me. I began counting syllables. “It’s hot out!” and, “That October sun… I like it.”
* * *
waiting for Ginkgo’s
bright yellow Autumn display –
lemon drop cascade
* * *
Last week a friend and I took an extended afternoon walk together around the residential areas of town, down by the water. Despite having lived here for about five years, he showed me some streets I had never walked down before. We spent quite some time sitting at a quiet little park at the end of one of the roads, watching ducks and other birds take off and land on the water, and judging the architectural successes and failures of the expensive waterfront houses.
One of the roads I had been down before. I remember it because there’s a house with an enormous ginkgo tree in its back yard. A couple years back my partner and I came across it right during its turning time, probably sometime in November. A strange thing about ginkgoes is that their leaves turn all at once from dark, deep green, to slightly paler green, to brilliant yellow. It’s very easy to miss, but we caught it that year at the optimal time. The branches of this tree extend over the entire yard, and its leaves, once entirely yellow, fell in a solid yellow carpet over the yard, the road, and even a few roads over.
But when my friend and I walked by last week, the leaves were only just turning an anemic sort of green. I tried to describe the golden scene to him, and I think I failed, as I am failing now, so I’ll leave you all with an encouragement to find a ginkgo tree in your area this fall, or at the very least google “ginkgo yellow”, and you will see what I can’t seem to describe. Perhaps rereading the haiku will help.
A cup of black tea,
casserole, and open door –
at long last, Autumn.
* * *
Last Thursday marked another autumnal equinox. The weather we usually associate with fall doesn’t always correspond with the official beginning of the season; often the intensity of the summer persists despite the shortened days and lengthened nights. This year, however, the two lined up very nicely where I live, and I like to think I have embraced all the benefits that cooler weather brings with a grateful and opportunistic heart.
I wore a light jacket, walked to work, turned off the AC, and ate an in-season apple. I planned my Halloween costume (loosely, Bulma from Dragon Ball, in honor of having just finished the series on Hulu. Please, no spoilers for Dragon Ball Z, as we have not seen past the first ten episodes!). I drank a celebratory glass of Booker’s, which is one of the closest approximations of what autumn tastes like that I know of.
Autumn is the most elusive, the most skittish of the seasons. If you blink it will escape you altogether. If you’re fortunate enough to be outside, breathe deeply and pick up a bright leaf. If you must be indoors, throw open the windows. If you have no windows, bake a pie. If you have no oven, drink some Booker’s. If you don’t drink bourbon, brew yourself a nice cup of tea. Whatever you do, don’t let the fleeting season pass you by unnoticed this year.
Slender, rustling steps –
a doe is softly munching
leaves as I wake up
* * *
It might not be an exaggeration to say that I saw more deer than people in the last three days. A few friends and I spent the weekend camping in West Virginia, in the beautiful and remote Big Bend Campground in Monongahela National Forest. If you don’t enjoy camping, there’s a good chance you won’t understand the sentiments behind this post, but I’ll do my best to express myself anyway.
The anxieties many people deal with on a daily basis fall into categories, such as bills, debt, car, job. These are anxieties for me as well, and while I’m grateful they don’t extend into the categories of food and shelter, I still opt to shed them whenever I possibly can. The most consistently successful way I shed them is by camping.
When camping, you exchange the usual concerns for the more immediately pressing ones: will a bear get into the food, is that a storm cloud, have I peed next to this tree already, I must gather tinder now. These concerns are so wildly different from the usual ones, it verges on absurdity. It’s like taking a final exam and suddenly being asked the question, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?”
It makes a world of difference that I have elected these troubles rather than having been thrown unwillingly into dangerous or uncomfortable situations. So, to avoid these elected troubles as much as possible, I do an outrageous amount of preparation beforehand, from planning meals to planning for the worst. But, somehow, even camping in the midst of Hurricane Joaquin last fall (“hurricamping”) was a far more enjoyable time than living a normal day at home, and it wasn’t because it was warmer or drier or more comfortable or more predictable. By all accounts it should have been completely miserable (and it was, a little). But I came out of it having had an immensely fun and memorable experience. Why?
My father once said of me, “Leslie without a list is like a peanut butter sandwich with no peanut butter.” I don’t know if you other list-makers out there are like this too, but even though I make many different lists on paper (e.g., a shopping list, a list of movies to see, a list of places to visit), they all end up being mentally added to The List. I’ve only recently discovered this phenomenon, and it explains a lot about why I get stressed out by stupid little things. My mind processes each list and adds it to one virtual, unending, ultimate To Do list. Unsurprisingly, then, I have a lot of trouble unwinding. Time is a precious commodity, and I tend to feel pressured to always continue onto the next thing on The List without allowing myself to recover. Even when I give my body a short break, rarely am I successful in relieving my mind from The List. I have often come home from work on a weekend and promptly started making a grocery list, despite my partner’s suggestion that I decompress for a while first, as the grocery store won’t close for several more hours. Only when I find myself in tears over whether to buy kale or asparagus do I concede to his advice.
When I’m camping, however, the time of day – even the day of the week – melts from my mind as I deal with more immediate challenges. These challenges more often than not arise unexpectedly, so I don’t have time to put them on The List. They are not unavoidable drudgeries, but stimulating microadventures that give life rather than suck it away. For the most part, very few real challenges appear, and all the uncharted time left in the day is available for relaxation and opportunity, disencumbered by The List.
Such pure moments – moments like waking to the sound of a deer nibbling on a leaf, or lying on the ground to watch the full moon rise over the mountain top – are not impossible to find in daily life, but they are much rarer and certainly harder for me to enjoy. Fog swirls over the river and a rocky mountain face stares at me from above, but I can’t fully see them unless I’m uncertain of the time and honestly don’t care to know it.