One year ago Jim and I arrived home after a Thanksgiving weekend away. One year ago, the inside of our little cabin was below freezing, colder than it was out in the snow. Our water bucket had turned to ice! Jim made a fire and I relocated our bed to the living room futon, which, with its close proximity to our wood stove, would be warm long before the heat climbed its way up the ladder to our usual sleeping spot. The idea of writing about our adventure was born from that night, as we lay cocooned in down sleeping bags, watching our breath dissolve into the night air.
On Sunday, we returned home to a cabin whose electric heaters had maintained an indoor temperature of sixty degrees. There were new bamboo floors underfoot, a bathroom with a toilet, sink, and shower, and a kitchen with a refrigerator, sink, and dishwasher. We still use our trusty attic ladder to climb up to our bedroom, but it will soon be replaced by a steep custom stairway, designed by my father and crafted by my brother. Plywood serves as a temporary countertop, but a shiny new one is on its way. Our gas range, washer, and dryer represent our current living room furniture, but they will soon find their respective places. We have light, heat, and water. All else remaining to be done is bonus material.
Time has changed our little home in so many ways it is hardly recognizable. And yet today I feel the same as I did one year ago; I’m standing at the beginning of something new and wondering how the journey will unfold. I’m a few steps past the trailhead on my way to an unexplored summit. I’ve cracked the cover of a new book, and even if I put it down now, the crease of the spine will hold my imprint.
But as our boots leave their shape along the trail, as a folded spine reveals our presence, we are also marked by our travels. We meet each new beginning wearing the impressions that have been left by those before it. Actions, equal and opposite.
Today, I realize that while my attention has been consumed by renovation, the cabin has marked me. It’s like every game of chess I’ve ever played. Here I sit, so intent upon my acquisitions that I neglect my own defenses, and…check mate.
Turning inward to examine how I have been marked by this little cabin, I see that I do not glean with shiny new floors, nor do I radiate with electric warmth and light. There are parenthetical lines surrounding my smile that I don’t remember seeing at this time last year. Still, if I’m to develop wrinkles, I suppose it’s not bad to begin with etchings of laughter and joy. Most of me agrees with this assessment. Most of me. But there is also a more visceral change. It feels like a downward current.
I used to feel flighty, like I would be carried away if the wind blew too strong as it wound its way around our mountain. This part of me is not gone, but it’s as if she sits with a counterweight in her lap. A gentle drawing down of the cerebral into the experience of embodiment.
Do you remember what you first wanted to be when you grew up? So often, we begin with the desire to be great, to change the very rotation of the world. We want to end war, cure disease, or launch ourselves into space. I aspired to be a great writer, then, years later, an olympic runner.
Over time, reality bullied me into submission. My dreams became less lofty. But I still want to be great in my own way. I want this world to remember me, for there to be some impression of my presence. And so, I have reached out in an effort to grasp hold of the spectacular. I have drawn myself up, climbed as high as my feet will allow, to connect with something higher than myself.
As I examine the mark the cabin has made upon me, as I move into the downward current, I realize that I had been turning in only one direction. How many times had I begrudgingly stepped outside in the past year to do something completely mundane and been met with greatness? The sky, ablaze with the setting sun. Fireflies, inviting me into their dance.
I had been seeking greatness by reaching out and lifting up, to the exclusion of turning in and drawing down. There is a feeling of greatness in my life today. But it reveals itself through the simplistic. The sensation of breath as I gather wood in from the cold, the embrace of warm water cascading over my skin as I rinse dishes clean, and the sensation of hands joined with hands as I sit with my family, eyes drawn closed, welcoming a Thanksgiving feast. I feel overwhelming greatness in the privilege of being able to cook the meals I enjoy, and at the prospect of once again having a garden in the spring, where I will reach down into the earth, and allow the dirt to stain my palms.
Perhaps I needed to trudge into a home where the temperature had dropped below freezing in order to feel the air against my skin. To watch my breath steam from my mouth before learning to be with it. To be forced to turn in one direction in order to bring balance to a well-established habit. I have been a slow learner, and am glad this cabin is a patient teacher.
The end of this saga is drawing closed, and the beginnings of a new path are emerging. Who knows if I will write, or if I do, if you will read it. Perhaps your eyes will draw you elsewhere, into new stories, cracking open the contents of fresh tales. But the cabin must have her word now, before you turn from the page. Of all the imprints you blaze in this great world, let the greatest be the mark you allow made upon yourself. Receive your journeys, and let their impressions shape those you leave along the trail as it guides you home.