You don’t know how quiet it is here. This house is silent. And, it is beautiful. Built by an old friend of my mother’s from the commune days and her husband, over twenty years ago, after they had just gotten married and while they had their only son on the way. I imagine them, in their late 30’s, surprised that they were suddenly newlyweds and starting a whole new life together. Here in the woods where the ponderosas and junipers are deep and ready for wind and snow, depending on the season. The ceiling of the living room is made of big, heavy vigas and the walls are mudded. The floor is Mexican saltillo tile. They built it by hand. It’s a perfect New Mexican house. It makes me feel so at home, filled with the possibility of my own dreams and destiny. I’m here now, on my birthday, in late December for a week while they are away in Mexico. And I couldn’t be happier, or more grateful. This house is filled with little moments from my life, little joys, and even greater heartbreaks. But those heartbreaks are all behind me now and I find myself praying that there are fewer to come. A birthday wish. It’s silly. I’m old enough to know, heartbreak is just a part of what humans do.
But for now, in the pre-dawn light, I wake up to the silence. The cathedral space of this quiet fills me entirely and humbles me and helps me know something about my own spirit. In the time before sunrise, it is still dark but as I look out the second story windows, over the tops of trees, I can see a storm settling in on the mountains. There is an unspeakable rightness in the way the cloud envelops the peaks above and slowly descends to my elevation. I understand that to most people, total quiet is a little disconcerting. I once had a boyfriend from New York who, when I took him out to the country, couldn’t sleep because of the quiet. He needed the sounds of a city moving around him to feel at rest. And it’s not that I don’t understand this. I too have become urban in many ways. I commute to work; I live with houses around me, someone sleeps and moves above me. I drive in traffic, brave lines and crowds to do the simplest of activities or errands. And though I have become accustomed to it, there is a part of me that is never at rest in this noise. I am at peace in the quiet spaces and this house is just that.
So, at six thirty, after I’ve just lain there watching night become morning, I finally pull myself out from beneath down and cotton and dreams to start the day. I make my way down hand built stairs, I feed both dogs and give them water, I make tea in the kettle, put it into a handmade cup. I start a fire. And then, which is now, as I write, the storm begins. I feed the chickens in gusts of wind and snow. Then the snow starts coming down in layers and sheets; I can see that the flakes are small and blowing in. This will be a storm that will need a lot of time to pile itself into the wells beneath the trees, to make a volume of snow. And it is the kind of storm that will make driving difficult, because it is coming in sideways and is carried on sharp winds. I should go to yoga, meditate, pray. It’s my birthday, I should be with friends. But the roads will be bad. So, for a while, I just sit by the roaring fire and watch the snow come in. Life in the woods, if even for a short time.
The temperatures are so cold today, during the day it barely reaches 30 and the night temps are projected to be 10 below. In a break between snowfalls I climb into the hot tub that looks out over the mountains to the east and the mesa to the west. And just as I think my whole life might be lonely beyond belief, I see a flock of blackbirds flying into the storm. Their shapes moving and swirling against the wind are like poems of flight. They are dark beyond reason against an ashen sky; they make me think of death. In this moment, death seems an appropriate thing to consider as I mark another year’s progress towards my own ending. And then of course, I miss my mother and Abbi, and Ian, and all those who I’ve loved with my whole heart and who have disappeared or been taken. A birthday is a good time to remember what has passed and also what is yet to come.
Later, as I talk on the phone in the little office I notice a photograph hanging on the wall. It is tacked directly to the mud and shows an old red truck with a construction logo on it and the frame of a house going up. I realize that it is this house, when it was just being built. There are no shaded courtyards holding peach trees yet, no garage, studio, chicken coop or garden. There are no long shady porches for summer, no walls filled with art and plants growing. The things that make this place a place and a home, have not yet come into form. They are just beginning. I see in this photograph, the tail of endings wrapping themselves around the shoulders of starts and promises like a serpent. A whole life has happened here, children, music, poetry, adventures, aging, the deeper and deeper intertwining of lives and destinies. This land has held it all and there is more to come. In the deep of winter quiet, I have the opportunity to reflect, on birth, on my own path through life. The days are nearing solstice, a moment where we touch the darkest place before we begin to welcome in and return to the light. It is a good time to be held by loved ones and to take things slowly. It is a good time to be brushed free and clean by strong winds through tall trees. This pause, this savoring, it is just what I intend to do with my one, precious, beautiful gift of a life.