Saturday, January 11, 2014

Living on the Edge

I woke up in the middle of the night a couple of nights ago, and couldn't go back to sleep. My mind started drifting here and there, and landed on what I wanted to paint on the walls at the Nest. I decided on a pale leafy green for the living spaces and a dark leafy green for the book nook and bathroom. Then I thought I could hang my Thoreau's Cabin picture on the big wall, except I felt it wouldn't be big enough for that wall. So I imagined I'd write Thoreau's quote (not just the one line about living deliberately, but the entire quote that inspires me) on the wall around the frame, almost like a scroll-work frame in writing - around the solid framed picture. I recited to myself the quote:

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." -Henry David Thoreau

I got stuck on the part that talks about "fronting only the essential facts of life", which kept going around in my mind over and over again.

As if on cue, when the snow came, it knocked out the heat and hot water, in fact all water. The pipes froze and burst, the boiler broke because there was no water, and so for 72 hours, there was no water and no heat in the house. Each of the three days, I sat in front of the woodstove feeding it logs and calling every plumber in the phone book. No one was available - the temperatures dropped so low that it seemed like every person in the entire area was fronting the essential facts of life. I brought in bowlfuls of snow to sit on the woodstove to melt on the fire.  Eating canned foods, drinking snow water, keeping warm by the wood fire - these were the essentials for three full days.

Go With The Flow - snow and trees - freshly fallen snow river - winter woods - Ed Parrish quote - original nature photography wall art 8x10

It is a new experience to live on the edge - on the edge of cold, on the edge of hunger, and on the edge of no sleep. It was stressful, a helpless situation, and the uncertainty of it all was the hardest to take. The bitterly cold snow was beautiful outside the windows - the branches like snow white lace weaved together, the banks of the creek like fur blankets of white, and the icy creek a ripple of velvet silk flowing through all the endless white. Beautiful, but cruelly cold. It's hard to be philosophical while living on a knife-edge. But it toughens and strengthens a person, makes one grow on the inside. One becomes intensely alive.

"Rural life intensifies the inner direction; it often makes for character at the expense of spontaneity and openness toward life. The struggle for mere existence against the fiercely changeable climate takes something out of people. Sometimes life becomes thin in consequence." - May Sarton

Fortunately for me, my life is fat. And full. At least, for now. And I'm grateful, or I'd forever be living on the edge, and there'd be no time for dreams or drifting, no room for cleanliness or order, no space for beauty and joy. Existing for that moment becomes urgent. Only when the essentials are addressed can one look around and wonder at the meaning of life, the mysteries of the universe; otherwise one is too busy existing, and cannot afford the luxury of "stopping and staring". So I'm quick to put aside my romantic notions about "fronting the essential facts of life". Instead I find relief, appreciation and gratitude for simple comforts of food, warmth and water. They seem all the more sweeter for doing without. Breathing comes back, smiling comes back, normal thought and reasoning comes back. But I hope I'll never forget what it was like to be in the throes of such terrible aliveness.

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