Finding the Gift

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too was a gift.

Mary Oliver

This morning I built the first fire in the wood stove and watched the flames with awe, surprised by how much I have missed the comforting presence of fire in my home after a long dry summer with warm weather persisting until just a few days ago. I did not do a lot of hiking this summer, so I look back with some regret after some difficult challenges this year and am already thinking about spring, snow free trails, and renewal.

As a child my family often took our last summer vacation in late August so that we could add the Labor Day weekend to my dad’s time off from work. That meant returning home just a few days before school started. Since my mother was a teacher and would also be returning to school, everyone was a bit rushed and irritable, including myself. It was painful to be plucked from the mountains and the lakeshore, returned home to shop for school supplies and new clothes, then sit in a classroom in front of a desk, expected to do long division.

It is not that I disliked school. It is just that school took place inside a building, and there was a world outside which still called to me in September when the days were yet warm, the sun shining.

That lasted at best for a week or two. Then the gray skies of western Washington would settle in, and the gray winter began. It would be a long time before I would be camping with my family again, so I settled into the routine of school and long division.

It has been many decades since I had to return to school in the fall, and fortunately these days we have calculators to perform long division. Still, the world I love most is the one on the mountain tops, and it will be several months before they are snow free.

This year my adjustment to cooler temperatures and shorter days has been complicated by a fractured shoulder, which greatly limits what I can do, as well as adding the pain factor to every activity. There is nothing to be done except to seek out the gift in this “box full of darkness.”

As the fire burns I pick up a good book. . .or even a bad one. What matters is that I disappear into the warmth and that other world created by the turning of each page.

When I am done reading I pick up my knitting. My shoulder pain continues to limit how long I can knit, but it is still satisfying to feel the beautiful fiber in my hands, to hear the rhythmic click of the needles, and to watch the yarn become a scarf.

This is how I will spend the long gray winter, comforted by the Okanogan pine forest that surrounds my home, a kind of hibernation after the dazzling and exhausting days of summer, a time to heal. Inside the box full of darkness it is not so bad really. It is instead soft and warm, like the afghan that covers my lap, the same one that passed through my fingers a few years ago to the rhythm of the needles.

Published by Colleen Drake

Colleen Drake (AKA Teacup) has over sixty years of hiking exerience (yes, I'm really old) and has seen some pretty big changes over those many years. Join her on the Solitude Trail & share some of these adventures while exploring with her the value of solitude in the wilderness.

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