A Solstice Story

As i mentioned briefly in another post, I have been a little stressed out. A little anxious. Todd and I decided to go to the lake this weekend to blow off some steam and relax. And by relax, I mean relaxing in the time-honored Palmer way, which is to work your ass off to near-exhaustion performing manual labor.

We went down Saturday afternoon and got there in time to warm the place up. (It was 40-something degrees when we walked in.) Todd started some yard work, the kids ran around like wild animals (a good thing), and I started some John Maghetti for dinner. After it was on, the sun was setting, so I grabbed a couple of beers for Todd and I, and went outside to play with the kids, watch Rollie hit the tennis ball with Todd (no we don’t have a tennis court), and shoot some pictures and enjoy my favorite time of day at the lake.

We took photos and ran around, then went inside and ate dinner while watching Elf. You can’t beat John Maghetti, and the fire going, and belly-laughing at Elf with your husband and kids for stress relief. Honest to God, I just about bust a gut when Buddy says to Jovi, “It’s just nice to meet another human that shares my affinity for elf culture.” That is some good stuff. Just kills me. I also love that Rollie would laugh along with me and think it was hysterical just because we thought it was hysterical.

So, we got up yesterday and had breakfast and then Todd and I worked in the yard all day long, cutting shrubbery back to tame the wilds and pulling vines out of high pine trees, and tearing mistletoe from dogwood. And the kids played. Now, usually they play and then fight for a while, then play some more. This was almost pure playing. Almost zero fighting. Just running around, and rosy cheeks, and noses running and then wiping their snot on their sleeves, and yelling to hear their echoes across the lake, and tiller being the master of all the dogs in the area – Choco, and Josie, and Quint all a swirling mass of furriness following her around. They threw rocks and earned two dollars hauling clippings up to the burn pile. We were all cold when we started, and then warmed up with play and work.

I felt tired but good. We worked til we just about fell out and it started getting dark. We made two absolutely huge piles of limbs and vines and leaves to be burned. We had windburn on our cheeks and blisters on our feet, and scrapes and sappy fingers.

And I had no anxiety.

We cleaned up and took showers and had a couple of beers. We warmed by the fire. We went to town with the kids and had pizza and then to WalMart to let them spend their two dollars. We went home and tucked in two tired kids and Todd let me watch four episodes of Friday Night Lights.

And I had no anxiety.

Todd went to bed during the last episode of FNL. I guess he just couldn’t take the mental turmoil of Saracen and Riggins, and Coach and Tami, and the rigors of living the west Texas high school football life. Or maybe he was just tired. I was fifteen minutes from midnight. I had places to be.

I opened a last beer and made that “let’s go outside to pee” sound that I make to the dog at night. I think i got that one from my Daddy. Some of you know the sound. Quint struggled to his feet (he is old and has arthritis), while I put on a hat and a sweatshirt and my old wool plaid barn jacket that I leave at the lake because it is ugly, but I love it and still like to wear it.

I went down to the lake, and purposely left the lights out so that I could see the stars. I debated getting a ladder out and trying to disable the damn security light, but a) I had consumed at least six beers at that point, and I’d probably fall off the ladder and b) Dad would see the light was out and I’d end up back up the ladder fixing the damn thing within weeks.

It was clear. I thought to myself, “Which way is East?

Easy. I had seen so many sunrises over that side of the lake, mornings fishing with Pop and Dad, up before dark, Grandma making me a thermos of hot sugar and milk with a drop of coffee, that I knew it by heart. I sat down on the far side of the dock, back to the pontoon and the power plant, on the narrow walk. I sat cross-legged, Indian style, criss-cross applesauce. I tucked a hand in my wool plaid pocket. Occasionally, I switched off hands in the pocket and hands on the beer. Mostly, I gazed up at a clear winter sky, and looked for meteors.

Quint came to sit near me. He wouldn’t lie down. He stared at me. He wondered what the fuck we were doing out in the cold midnight, when we could be on the couch near the fire. I saw it in his eye and the attention and cock of his ears.

I shushed him and rubbed his cold ears. I looked out across a glass-like lake, not a ripple on it, with no wind in the trees. i heard the plant occasionally, and wished I couldn’t hear it. I imagined what it would have sounded like on a lake with no power, what it would be like with nothing but natural light, the light of stars and moons. I couldn’t. There were Christmas lights across the lakes. I heard geese, and nothing else. I saw a couple of planes, the only other sign of life in this strange December 20th night. One day before Winter Solstice, ushered in by the Ursids.

The lake was so calm that I could see the reflection of the brightest stars on its surface. And oh, the stars!

A blanket of stars in a swath across the eastern sky, for me and me only, reflected on my lake. It was five after midnight. No meteors yet. And then there was one. And then it was gone.

I sat for almost an hour, sipping my beer slowly, staring at the sky until my eyes grew tired. I would see a shooting star and it would be gone, and I felt that familiar star-gazing feeling of relief that I was really seeing something, and awe that I knew to look that night, that man has learned so much about something so boundless.

I wondered about the other folks who might be out looking up that same night, the night before the Winter Solstice. And yet I was so alone, just me and my dog. I could slip into the lake and no one would ever find me. I stood and walked back to land. I stood there at the edge of the lake shivering, Quint sitting patiently at my side, and told myself I would go in when I saw the next meteor.

I saw it, streaking across the sky, and then it was gone. I went inside and crawled into bed with my husband and I was happy and satisfied and feeling small and big all at the same time.

And I had no anxiety.

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