On Christmas Eve I drove through the darkening streets of a small town not far from home. The roads were wet with the remnants of a passing storm, and the wind had blown with such force that a tree had fallen atop a power line. Now the electricity was out, and there was something comforting in the sight of all those unlit store windows, as if, at 4:30 in the afternoon, everybody had already gone home to stoke the fire and put the kettle on for tea. But of course the roads and sidewalks were still busy, and I felt a small, passing sadness for those who had counted on these last few minutes of electronic commerce to fulfill their gift-giving obligations.
Once home I stoked my own fire, filled a pot of water to heat for dishes, ground coffee, spooned lard into a skillet, then cut an onion into crude slices with my pocketknife. When the pan was hot, I dropped in the onion and salted it down. Let it burn a little at the edges. Then the steak, a ribeye latticed with fat in gelatinous veins. I tossed a stick of paper birch on the fire to bring some quick heat. The onion and steak and lard were throwing a bit of smoke, but I sat back and let it rip just until the fat was crisped up nice and the inside was still a half-shade darker than red. Almost purple, really. Warm-ish. The coffee bubbled on the stove.
I sat by the stove and ate from the pan with fingers and knife, drinking black coffee and considering the temptation of further retreat. There are times I see a small cabin, a length of off-kilter stove pipe jutting from a wall, shotgun hanging on a peg by the door. Somewhere along the way toward inhabiting this cabin, I took up pipe tobacco and swore off shaving. You’d have to walk a good 20 minutes into the woods to find my family and me, and it’d be all uphill, and for half of those 20 minutes we would’ve known you were coming by the preceding birdcalls. We’d invite you in, serve stew thick with last year’s potatoes and hunks of indeterminate meat. “What’s this?” you’d ask, holding forth your laden spoon, and in answer I’d exhale a cloud of pungent smoke and raise my eyebrows. Let your imagination run wild.
Way up there in the woods, with the trees and encroaching darkness and pipe smoke insulating us from this crazy, mixed-up world where everyone seems so damn frightened (and therefore, it seems, angry) all the time, and worse yet for all the wrong reasons, we’d eat until our bellies are full-to-bursting. We’d sit a spell, listen to the sounds of the on-coming night, and tell the stories that have been told so many times before. You know the ones I’m talking about.
Then we’d have pie.
• • •
I’ll leave you with a few gems from an interview with Stephen Jenkinson, in the August ’15 issue of The Sun. I highly recommend it.
The dominant culture of North America is not being killed by global warming or too few whales or anything like that. It just doesn’t know how to live, how to take up the task of loving life, even how to grieve its own grievous history.
North Americans need a great awakening. What we thought was so isn’t so; what we once believed to be true isn’t true and never was. Here are some of the lies we’re told: There’s enough for everyone; we’ve just got a distribution problem. As long as we pay the sticker price for something, we’re entitled to have it. We get of a vote in anything of real significance or importance. Dying is a rupture in the natural order of things.
Health is not the absence of disease or hardship or brokenness. Health includes all of that. It includes dying… I see our health as like a tripod, a dynamic thing: One leg is your relationship with all other human beings. It’s not possible for you to be healthy when there are people living under a freeway overpass in cardboard boxes. Your health is dependent on theirs. The second leg is your relationship with all in the world that’s not human. If you have only these two legs, you can try to live a good life, but it’s like walking on stilts. The third leg is what gives you a place to rest, and that leg is your relationship with the unseen world, everything not described by the other two. Having all three constitutes health. That’s where it lives. This tripod sustains you. You don’t exist as an individual without these relationships.