My favorite part of the holiday season is driving around and seeing homes and shops decked out wonderful displays of light: All white, multi-colored, static light, twinkling lights, and moving lights. Last night as we were driving over the hill to my husband’s company party, we passed a white truck covered in strings of lights. It was wonderful and the owner of the truck enjoyed our happy reaction as much as we did.
What I don’t like, of course, is the traffic, having to stalk people for their parking spots, long lines at the grocery stores and department stores, and well, pretty much everywhere I go. But, even though I grump and groan about it all, it’s still the best time of year because somehow, all this holiday madness still tends to bring out the best in people. We give more to charity. We go out of our way to spend more time with our families. And, in my experience, we’re just generally nicer and more friendly to our fellow human beings.
I think it has something to do with those lights I love so much. Jesus birth is celebrated in December because that was the early church’s best guess. We know the date is not accurate, but it is appropriate because it is believed Jesus Christ is the light of the world and what better time to bring light into the world than in the middle of winter.
Pre-Christian pagans who suffered through long, dark, cold winters often had mid-winter celebrations. One important aspect of those celebrations was to encourage the Sun with it’s life giving warmth and light to return in the Spring. It was also a reminder that the Sun had always returned and as long as we keep faith in that, we can survive the longest, darkest night of the year. So, what better way to enjoy the month of December than by decking our halls with light, no matter what your religious beliefs happen to be.
At one time I used to have this fantasy about living in a cabin in the woods. I would live a simple, self-sufficient life far from any city, surrounded only by nature with my nearest neighbor at least a mile away. I lived alone, of course, because as a serious introvert I tend to avoid situations that require more than the polite minimum of social interaction. As most of my employment reviews noted, I lack “interpersonal skills.” I prefer the term “socially awkward.”
Therefore, in my daydreams, the cabin would be difficult to find and access which would insure that only those people I wanted to see would go to the inconvenience of visiting me. In my mind, my son, his wife and their children would make the trek once or twice a year and they would spend most of their time trying to convince me to give up my hermitage and live with them. To which I would answer, bah! Or something equally crotchety.
Forgetting that God has a sense of humor, I felt safe indulging in this fantasy because, at the time, I could not imagine it coming true. I was a single working woman with no savings, mediocre credit and neither the skills nor the knowledge to find and survive such a place.
Little did I know I would marry a man who would make that fantasy come true. Almost.
We now live in a small house set on the side of a hill outside the small town of Felton, California. Like my fantasy we are smack in the middle of a forest surrounded by trees with lots of wildlife to enjoy and there’s even a creek nearby. The roads snaking through the area are narrow, winding, and in bad weather somewhat hazardous. We don’t get a lot of visitors.
However, because of the tree cover growing our own food is out of the question, which as it turns out, is fine with me. At my age vegetable gardening doesn’t live up to the romantic ideal in my head. It’s a lot of hard work that my back can’t handle. Fortunately, there are four grocery stores within a 20 minute drive from our place.
We have other conveniences that never appeared in my fantasy such as Internet and Cable, hot and cold running water, a flushing toilet, electricity and a propane stove and oven. What we don’t have is central heating. We have a single wood stove that in a cold snap such as they one we are experiencing right now, works overtime trying to keep the living room/kitchen area warm.
In my fantasy, my cabin was about half the size of this house so a small wood stove was enough to keep me warm on cold winter nights. In reality, we have a very small living room, larger kitchen, two bedrooms, my office (which is always cold), and a small bathroom that, in winter, could substitute as a meat locker. One centrally located wood stove just doesn’t cut it. Besides, wood heat is a lot of work. My husband spends his weekends chopping wood and I spend a good chunk of time everyday managing the fire.
In the summer, it’s hot. Not as hot as it would be if we didn’t have a tree canopy blocking much of the sunshine, but it’s still hot. And dry, and dusty. In the evenings, we like to spend time outside on our deck. Problem is, so do several thousand mosquitoes. These are things we never think about when indulging in nature fantasies.
But, we do get to feed hummingbirds, listen to ravens croaking, and watch young deer, some so young they still have their spots, walking down the road. I’ve encountered possums and raccoons around the house and we’ve become the benefactors of two feral cats that were living under our shed.
One other thing: our nearest neighbors are three feet away. Actually, we’re sandwiched between two houses. Fortunately, our neighbors are lovely people who respect our privacy even if their weekend parties do get a little loud in the summer.
Fantasies and day dreams are fun and a great way to stretch the imagination, but the cold truth is, reality can never measure up to those ideals. But, for me, that’s okay. Real fantasy is a mixture of both and as a writer I’ve found that reality provides more material that is rich in the sensory details that make a story come to life. Things like freezing in winter and being eaten alive by mosquitoes in the summer, for instance.