Summer made its move to autumn, and autumn quickly gives way to winter. The harvest has been gathered from the garden, the once lush plot now humps of raw dirt and tangled dying weeds. The winter wood is cut and stacked. The trees have dropped their leaves, baring gray trunks like the walls of a cold cage. Everything waits for the heavy snow.
Time always moves swiftly, but when children are bursting through the house I feel time differently. Looking at my children, I feel the blur of life with an acuteness that leaves an ache. But looking as if through their eyes, I feel a surpassing delight in the momentary thrills of small things which are glorious. I remember, and as if in a faint echo, I feel the world anew.
As summer gives way to the holiday season that stretches from autumn to winter’s edge, it is one long succession of either delightful expectation or savoring experience. Sitting down with my boys to a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast, they dig in with gusto and as I enjoy my own food I hear a running commentary of “Hm! This is good.”
And, “Yum, this is very good! Good stuff.”
Followed by, “I like Thanksgiving so much.”
Somehow, the little heads poking over the table offering this analysis only makes my own appreciation more sharpened. I feel how good it all is through the perspective of someone who has only been around for a very few years. This is all still fresh and immediate, not dulled by the repetition and ennui of age.
Thanksgiving is followed by the day for tree hunting. We have a tree farm at the end of our street which makes this process very straightforward. In my childhood it was a huge field which I helped a local farmer hay. I remember the late evening sun sinking low, the golden summer beams angling across the valley as we hurried to get the hay in before the evening dew settled. It was a beautiful field above the local hamlet, and there is a bucolic view of the valley and the church steeple from the top of the field. The view is still the same twenty years later, but the field has become a forest of trees, reminding me of the years gone, and my age.
The boys march up the hill. Some of my siblings are along for the event and having company makes everything more exciting for the little ones. One of my younger brothers is along with his wife, just married this summer. He is sixteen years younger than I, but nobody stays young, and this is another reminder of how far from my youth we are. It seems normal, and it also feels strange. Life is like that.
The weather is superb, warm and still. The tree farm is well kept so we never have any trouble finding a good tree. My wife is always almost disappointed by this fact, because in her youth it was a long travail in the places they searched. Tradition is tradition–but sometimes it is good to change. With a passel of children four and under a long travail would not turn out well, and we all know it. So we pick a tree after a short hunt and start the trek back down the hill.
I think my oldest might have been waiting for this moment the entire trip. The hill is long, grassy, and open. The perfect place for running. At four years old his body has just entered the time when muscles and mind have blossomed into a glorious synergy which will propel him through the years until age begins to catch him. But for now, jumping is no longer toppling and running is no longer toddling. He feels the life roaring in his veins. There is the beginnings of a real grace, an athleticism of power which hints at the man he will become. And so, before we can even tell him that it is not quite time to go down the hill, he is off running. Running with all his might, running with the glory of life, running down the hill, legs pumping, hair flying as if to outrun time. Down the hill he goes, getting smaller and smaller. It is a beautiful delight to watch, the sum of life and fatherhood, and poignant with a hidden heartache. Not long now. Run boy, run.
Once we are back at the house it is the time for trimming the tree and decorating. And home made hot chocolate, rich and smooth. I have heard by report that this stage can be an exceptionally fractious occasion of differing opinions and competing ideas, and perhaps that will be the picture in ten years when there are more people of age to have opinions. But for now it is mostly my wife making the decisions with the boisterous tumult of wrestling and shrieking in the background until the hot chocolate is ready and that begins to settle things down a bit. Still they are little boys with uncles around so settled is only relative.
The day continues to warm, the sun bright in a clear sky which justifies the superlative of glorious, and I hang the lights on the porch. In the bustle of the afternoon I feel the rhythms of our own marking of the season, a thing which helps slow and anchor the days. The delight of children can help bring me back to the present when plans and fretting can so easily carry me off to other times and places. The field needs to be mowed and I don’t know if the tractor will give me trouble, and I am already pondering what I will do for maple tapping come February. But right now it is preparation for Christmas, right now we are here. And at the end of the day my oldest sighs and says, “I wish we could sleep by the Christmas tree.”
No, you can’t, but we will decorate your room.
Right now we are here, in the ebb and flow of days, the putting up and taking down. The hardness of life is real and never far away. But sometimes in these days, in days like this, I can see as if from the corner of the eye, in the flash of a moment, and feel right there the goodness which is present, the peace which is there for the having, real and hiding behind it all.
And in the morning the children come down and muse (as they will again and again), “I wish it was Christmas already.”
Soon enough. Do not hurry. It will be, soon enough.