In her book. Silence, Sara Maitland recommends creating little pockets of solitude by taking walks over ground seldom used by others. I wanted to follow her advice today but wind and rain drove Aki and I into the wooded ruins of the old Treadwell Mines. We found other dog walkers there but they were wrapped up in too much foul weather gear to sing in the new year or even speak.
Ms. Maitland convinced me that everyone should dedicate some time to silence on January 1. After morning coffee or tea, bundle up and walk through some noiseless place. Don’t fill the earned silence with thoughts of the past or your hopes and fears for this year. Enjoy the void or let ideas bubble up from your subconscious stew. Watch, as we did, your local winter ducks fly urgently over the water or gulls move through the sky at a leisurely pace. Ignore your ghosts, for us those of old Treadwell miners or the avalanche gun that fires rounds across Gasteneau Channel to bring down unsafe loads of snow from the slopes of Mt. Roberts. Taste the resulting peace even if rain swollen streams carry eroded land to the sea. Bring it home.
It’s been a remarkably white December on Chicken Ridge. The big spruce trees marching up Mt. Maria retain snowy highlights. Snow shovels come out every day, building our sense of community as neighbors work together to open paths for people and cars. It’s the best time for neighbors to visit during the busy holiday season.
Aki, the snow lover, thrives here and on the more remote places where we cross country ski. With me, she hunts exciting smells and the odd chance to charge after a scolding squirrel. She changes when as on recent trips out the road, we ski with people with various skill levels. A good sized gap can open between the fastest and the slower skier. Aki becomes the herder she was born to be, dashing back and forth between the alpha and the omega; trying to encourage by example, the slowest to close the gap. After these outings, she spends the car ride home collapsed into the arms of one of the passengers.
Aki can’t consult a calendar so she doesn’t know that this is the last day of the year. She can sense emotions in her humans but I wonder if her skill is finely enough tuned to detect our communal optimism that next year will be better than 2013. The closing one brought joy and contentment to the house with the purple door on Chicken Ridge. Its occupants reasonably look forward to more of the same in 2014. We pray for the same for friends and family in the USA, France, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Ireland, England, Scotland, and Canada. We have more desperate prayers for the rest of the world, inspired by the optimism of the season to ask for peace and an end to starvation, hatred, and bigotry.
January 1 was a day for visiting when we lived in Bethel. While people in Anchorage and the Lower 48 were hunkered down around the TV watching football and nursing hangovers those of us without excess money or cable TV would cycle through the houses of friends. On the pretext of wishing them Happy New Year we would appear uninvited. if not unexpected or unwelcome, at the inside door of their arctic entry way. Once inside there would be tea or coffee drunk and stories told of the last year while we waited for someone else to appear. When it was polite to do so we would move on to another house or return home to wait for folks to visit us there.
Now, in Juneau, I’m saved from an American New Year’s Day by the Japanese American Community with an invitation to their Oshogatsu. There we will find a potluck of Japanese food eaten with tea and conversation. There the whole village will gather, some who I only see on this first day of the year. Later Aki and I will explore some trail, me more able to appreciate the wild silence for having been filled at Oshogatsu,