As mid-January passes, I feel the first ticks toward a growing light. Last evening Sally and I walked the trails of the Chinook lands we are blessed to live nestled against. Emerging from the forest, we watched the fading light of sunset at 5:30. A half hour of new light has started the swing toward longer days. Soon we will feel its quickening pace. For now it is cold, and thoroughly winter. Marv Hiles writes: "We live our years in a courtly dance, circling through a roundel of sun, tides, and seasons of body and soul that extend farther than our brief lifespan. We are ripples on a pond of incomprehensible depth."
My own life has become a dance between what is enduring about that cycle - the refuge of seasonal continuity and grace, and what has broken that cycle into something incomprehensibly new. It is more important than ever that I remember to take refuge in the "roundel of sun, tides and seasons", daily and hourly, so that I can be alive as well to what is breaking open, even when it feels as if things are merely breaking apart.
These days I long for the simpler rhythm of work and place that I remember from an earlier era in my life, bound to a small fishing village on a remote island in Southeast Alaska, where my children were born and spent their first decade of life. Doing carpentry in the winter and commercial fishing in the summer, it was all held within a scope of place and belonging that feels far away now. We moved south to Puget Sound when my children came to an age that was confining for them on that small island. My work has shifted away from matters of craft and endurance, toward matters of the heart and mind - teaching and writing, networking and organizing - work I love. But I spend many hours a day now in front of a screen that did not exist through my first four decades of life, wielding powers of connection that earlier generations could not even have imagined. I have become a different person inhabiting a global culture to which place is often an afterthought, if it is a thought at all. A culture in which the mind and body rarely occupy the same place at the same time.
I live in a house that I built with my own hands, though I too-rarely pick up hammer and saw and chisel these days. The yearning of my heart is strong for more of the continuity that characterized my life as a carpenter and fisherman - a single habitat containing work and family, leisure and the intimate fabric of a local community that actually depends upon each other for social and economic sustenance. That possibility of a place-based life feels gone with the wind, and working with that fact is a big part of my "practice" now. My children will be the last born on this earth who spent any portion of their life uncoupled from the internet and the withering reach of social media.
But so it is, and therefore so it will be. Perhaps I am merely of an age where the backward glance is becoming more frequent. I will have to be vigilant not to give myself over to this impulse. But I also feel it is my job - my calling in a way - to be one of those outliers whose desire is to keep to the old ways - work that is connected to earth, soil and sea, physical labors working the material of that earth into something useful and visible and available to the touch. And a community that is not always just passing through, using this place as a launching pad for forays to the far ends of the rainbow.
The part of that vision that endures is the part I have in each moment of pause, when I allow myself to feel the pulse of the place I am now standing, the fragrance of the winter air, the continuity of decades spent in in the same valley. And the yearning of a heart that is still beating within it.