Now that hard frost has fallen, ever so slightly, over the land and penetrated into our bones, I have been hearing the familiar, predictable questions.
“Why are you all bundled up like that?” a co-worker inquires, as I sit at my desk with a thick woolen muffler wrapped around my neck.
“How many versions of that fisherman’s knit sweater do you have?” asks a friend who has seen me in the same handmade pattern knitted in gray, black, navy, plum and natural colors.
“Planning to put a space heater in that back room?” a visitor suggests subtly as arctic cold rolls through the open door of the unheated room into the belly of the cabin.
“Had a fire in the wood stove yet?” says my landlord, having recently installed a new chimney pipe and a second-hand stove.
I welcome all comers. This is my season, my time. Nothing gives me quite the same pleasure as digging out my UGGs; unpacking my finely knit woolens, crafted on Cape Cod over 25 years; feeling my fur bristle in the cold of early morning; cupping my mittened paws around the pottery heat of the first cup of steaming morning coffee; watching the dog crunch through frosted blades of grass as she patrols the yard at daybreak.
Last week, the full moon hung at its closest point to Earth this year and seemed to have its own moon circling nearby. But the little speck of light near the smallest lunar image of 2012 was a planet: Jupiter rested beside it in the clear night sky, made sharper by the startling cold.
At the same moment, it seemed I had mine, too, my substantial “moon,” the golden retriever revolving around me, held nearby according to the authority of a gravity of companionship that remains stronger and more dominant than even the desire for a chew stick waiting indoors.
Light and dark; darkness and day. These are the simple elements of time and contentment that frame my rarefied, happy co-existence with a loyal dog, the two of us lounging in front of a blazing, well-contained flame in the wood stove, the fire of the pack between us, a bond across species and daily separation for hours on end.
I have found myself uncommonly out of the loop when it comes to the flurry of the holidays this year, in part because I remain hobbled in the aftermath of ankle surgery, unable to exercise or give the dog a walk or workout. But some of my reserve about the celebration of the season has only to do with this: I am living in the middle of evergreens, and in bushes all about the house, red berries dangle like ornaments better than glass globes or strands of spun glass.
Being in Maine, in the middle of pines and birches, listening to the low hooting of the owl in the black night or staring off into the velvet-dark wood to whistle down the dog and finding instead chips of mica scattered through the scrub like the eyes of a hundred night creatures: These all are things I longed for during the several years of childhood I spent in Chicago, often taking refuge from my six siblings by hiding in an attic bedroom, reading a book or studying maps of New England. I prayed to live someday in the Pine Tree State, perhaps near Bar Harbor, where E.B. White had made a home and penned his essays for The New Yorker, or close to Southport Island where Rachel Carson had found peace and courage and wonder.
There is a long tradition of finding a natural world worth loving in Maine, and I am no exception to the crowd of devotees.
Many days, as I drive the back roads home, I have the sense of steering through a stack of picture postcards; everywhere I look is a scene framed in simple beauty.
As the holidays roll toward us like a tide coming in, I stand on a favorite point of rocky coast and see I have everything I ever wanted right here, in abundance. I am not thinking of carols or Christmas gifts but the hymns in the wind and the blessings of bright lakes and cloud-shadowed mountains.
There is no other greeting called for. I carry with me the language of the land and the poetry of the water. No other sound or symbol, no more substance or surfeit is needed.
Pick up a frosted leaf and gaze at a page of your lucky life. Breathe, and look beyond. The world that holds you lies at your feet, waiting as all creation is, for completion — your oneness with it, your heart open, your mind as sharp as ice — and, for a moment, singular and blessedly clear.
North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: