Two summers ago when an old, dilapidated greenhouse on our property was torn down, the view behind our house opened up. For the first time since we moved here seventeen years ago we could see the cottonwood forest that sits above us on the neighboring property. I was happy to discover that every evening around sunset a pair of eagles found their way to one particular tree and perched there overnight. It was like clockwork—when the sun went down, they’d land on a sturdy, almost perfectly horizontal branch, and stay put until morning.
The sun dips below the horizon earlier every day now, and it’s the time of year when our small house starts to feel even smaller. As the darkness expands, our house seems to shrink. Nighttime encroaches on morning and evening. Incredible sunrises and sunsets mark the transition. More than the darkness, it is the sameness that seems remarkable this time of year. I tend to sit in the same place every evening, drink the same tea. In general, I move into a routine that unintentionally becomes a bit rigid. I’m content here and I don’t have much desire to leave the house. When I do venture out, I daydream about coming back home, starting a fire, reading a book and writing.
A few weeks ago I was in Philadelphia and New York visiting our daughter during her fall break from school. It was my first time in either of those cities and being in such diverse and densely populated places was a feast for my senses. I’ve only lived in small, western towns where white is the predominant skin color, where at every place of business I’m bound to run into someone I know, where I rely on mountains to gauge direction, rather than the sun.
The way city dwellers need to get out into nature, I needed to spend some time in a city. I needed to see people different from myself. I needed to hear different languages and witness a way of life so very different from my own. I came home feeling more confident. I could get used to being in a city—could even live in one if circumstances took me there. This was good because growing up in rural places had me feeling wary of cities.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen lately. For the month of November we’re trying to eat only foods that we prepare—nothing from a box or a bag. It only works with planning and so I am in the kitchen a lot and when I’m not in the kitchen I’m thinking about food. What to make? What to add to the grocery list? How much time do I need to allow? This works only because of the sameness of November—no vacations this month, no company. In November we have more time in our lives without the garden to tend to, without the frequent outings of summer.
Our son is twenty-three and living at home for just a little while longer. Soon he’ll have a place of his own, a yurt he’s helping build. As his move out date approaches, he’s watching me cook and asking questions. “How long does it take to make rice?” “How long do you cook beans in the crock pot?”
Our daughter is nineteen and on the East Coast in her junior year of college. It’s been almost a year since she’s been home. As we walked around the streets of NYC and Philadelphia a few weeks ago, she talked about home cooked meals and our dogs. She misses fires in our wood stove and seeing mountains. In a month she’ll be home for winter break.
Early last summer, someone bought the land to the east of the eagle tree and almost immediately a new house started going up. As I expected, the eagles stopped perching in their usual cottonwood tree. I looked for them, but they had moved on, no doubt to a tree far from any construction zone.
Late Wednesday afternoon last week I was chopping potatoes and onions for a stew. Tears were streaming down my cheeks as I cut into the onion and I had to stop for a moment to keep from chopping my own fingers. Even before the onion, I’d been on the verge of tears for a few days after hearing about the death of a young man who’s the same age as my own son. I didn’t know him personally, but I know his dad. His mother and I once commiserated about the messiness of our son’s bedrooms. They are the second family I know who lost a child this year. While 2015 will be a year that will likely lose its significance for me over time, they will always remember this year as the year they lost their son.
I used a paper towel to dry my eyes and I took a moment to recover from the onion chopping. As I looked out my kitchen window an eagle swooped low in the cottonwood forest. It made a couple of passes before it landed on the tree with the perfectly horizontal branch. A few minutes later the second eagle landed beside it. They seemed unperturbed by the new three-story house just a few yards to the east of them.
I was unexpectedly thrilled to see the eagles return to their tree, as if they came back just for my benefit. I like to imagine that they searched the area for another that could serve their purposes, but all of the other trees fell short. None of them were the eagle’s equivalent of a comfy couch to settle in on for the evening.
The temperature is down in the 20s now. The night before last I had trouble sleeping because I was worried about my chickens out there in their uninsulated coop. The next day I installed a heat lamp and gave them a ton of fresh straw. Now as the cold wind rages, their space is rather comfy. Such an easy fix, straw and a heat lamp.
Today I’m reading the news of the Paris and Beirut terrorist attacks. I’m also making my grocery list and starting to clear out the things that have accumulated in my daughter’s bedroom while she’s been away. This afternoon we’re helping our son get the materials for his yurt deck. The sun has come up, finally, and I just fed my chickens and stoked the fire. Now I’m sitting on my couch with an old afghan draped across my lap, writing again, glad to have a moment to piece all of these unrelated things together.