(On my birthday, we had only two, but it was still beautiful)
2013, lucky 13, was a year of great changes and growth. It was a year full of walking and ice skating and driving around my new home of Downeast Maine. It was a year of new friends and a new life, of teaching art to children and adults, of becoming a craftsperson full time, of, in general, adjusting and changing and adapting to this place that adjusts and changes and adapts as the seasons switch and the days appear and disappear, ever different, no two the same.
Last night, while yet more snow fell and the skies looked ominous and grey-orange in the lateness of a December night, I spoke about how I felt that the winter here is more beautiful than the summer. My friend who I stood with, in the dark, said that he cannot really appreciate one without the other, implying I suppose that the contrast between the seasons, the starkness of this place, is what inspires the wonder and awe that I feel when finding myself on a porch at night with sleet and snow pelting my curly hair.
Last year’s first snow, magnified on my windows
“I like it when I take the controls from you, and when you take the control from me. I really am a lucky man…” says Bill Callahan in his song, Small Plane, one of my favorites of his and a perfect song for the last few days of what was a huge year for me.
A year ago, I lived in a beautiful but cold apartment that sat up above a quiet street in Northeast Harbor, Maine. I named it the House that Floats, and soon after, I moved into The Caravan: the tiniest house in Northeast Harbor. I packed my life into a space that is less than 350 square feet, and made a life there by planting flowers and vegetables, sewing, and making jewelry into the wee hours. It is a house with few doors and no closets: it is like living on a very small ship, with everything battened down into its appropriate place.
Soon I will move into a new place, and I am not sure what its name is yet, only that it is a very blank slate in a very new town. I realized whilst walking around it the other night that I have no furniture at all anymore to put inside it: no table, no bed, no anything at all save a workbench, a sewing machine table, a cabinet and a bookshelf. So I suppose I do have some things, after all. If I have learned anything from life, it is that our magpie nature dictates that we fill our spaces in no time, and no doubt, the new house will fill up quickly with what I consider to be beautiful things. I decided a little while ago that one of the gifts of all the transitions over the last few years is that I get to decide what and who comes in my door, that this life is mine to create in beauty to the best of my ability.
This past year has taught me a thing or two about beauty, and about cultivating a beautiful life. I have done my best to keep moving forward in this new place, this place in which many people have been for years. I still feel very, very new here: a feeling only amplified by the choice to try a new town on the same island. My newness is exposed almost daily as I remark on sea smoke on the ocean, or ice on the branches of trees, or on the discovery that a good winter coat really saves you in the cold days that seem to be with us with full force. Tonight we go down to 0 degrees, and over the next few nights, to much below that as we enter January. As far as I remember, January was the coldest month, last year full of ice skating on fierce winter days, and that by February everyone is ready for the bitterness of winter’s chill to be over, only to realize that at least two months lie before us before the warmth returns. February, as one of my friends said, is when everyone goes crazy for a while, just dealing with being in the middle of it, rather than at the magical beginning, or the slushy end.
But, I am getting ahead of myself. Here we are, on December 30th, one short day away from a new year. I am sitting in a beautiful old house in Bar Harbor, housesitting and catsitting for friends who are out of town. I am eating pasta alla carbonara and drinking French wine that I bought from the folks who run the restaurant that took all my time and energy this past summer. I am thinking about what I want for the new year, what I am grateful for from last year, and what to do on the very important last day of 2013.
I have a few habits for New Years Eve; I clean my house very well, I take out all the trash, I pay all the bills, I sweep the dust out of the door. I light candles and eat good food and try to reach the people that I care about. I think about resolutions in a realistic way, as far as what I can really do with my time in the new year. This year I am resolving to be more organized in my business and teaching, and to believe all the compliments that people give me in order to be helpful and keep me going on this path. I am trying to let go of some fear and terror that has held me back for a few years in the hope that it is only a roadblock put in place by my survival skills and instincts. Fight or flight has no place for me here in my new home: this is a place of peace and forgiveness and acceptance of differences. This is a place where people help each other.
Last night, during another long conversation, a friend and I spoke about the North Pond Hermit and other Maine characters of special significance. A friend of mine who used to live here was complaining the other night about how anti-social everyone is: how everyone stays home and expects others to come to them, about how everyone entertains themselves with various projects. I agree that it is a different sort of place in that way: we all are here for some reason, and I think that reason has something to do with peace and solitude, with creativity and independence, with being away. It is hard sometimes to communicate with people who do not wish to live here about the power of being away here, away in a small community of independent spirits, who occasionally gather together over dinner or a fire. Is it escapism living here? Sometimes I wonder about that, wondering if it is a sense of escaping the external world into a world of your own making. Sometimes I wonder if that is bad, or good, or neither. There is a power in creating your own world, and there are few places where you really can do that; in most places, I think the external forces are so strong that you are challenged to create an inner world at all, much less one that can influence and forge your external world in a meaningful way. There are so many people here who do so many things: small things that add up to a very rich and full life. Some people might think that life too quiet, and that, I suppose is why there are so few people here. Another friend said a few months ago that the beauty of this place is that there are so few people, and the ultimate downside is that there are so few people.
Is it a place of contrasts? To be sure. Is it a place of introspection and quiet? Again, to be sure. Is it the end all be all? Most certainly not, but I am beginning to wonder if there is a place like that at all, or if life, is, indeed, what you make it.
I pasted this to the front window of my house. Each day as I stared outward, the landscape reminded me of this painting.
So, here we are, sitting on the cusp of a new year. Tomorrow night, during the new moon, we will all listen and watch as another year ends and one begins. My prayer for the new year is that we spend more time noting the present, thinking about the future, and are less hemmed in by our past.
I hope to spend more time thinking about where I am then where I have been or where I am going.