It’s mid-week in mid-May and I have the good fortune to find myself on a little adventure. After school I drove up to the mountains to the lovely, rambling house of friends. They loaned me their mountain house so I could transact some business in the vicinity. Lucky for me, it’s very cold so I’m sitting by a blazing, snapping fire with a glass of wine, and taking time to write in unfamiliar and friendly surroundings, far away from the rest of the world.
This house is built to accommodate four children, their spouses and fifteen grandchildren so it’s jolly even when it’s empty– echoes of optimism all around me. The house sits on a hundred acres designated as Stewardship Forest and on the walls are hundreds of photographs of easy, happy family times, collections of arrowheads, wild turkey feathers and stone age tools. It is a place that’s all about love of family and love of the land.
I’m tucked in amongst the books and the stonework, socked in by fog and toasted, on the front side at least, by my cozy fire. What a luxury to be alone with one’s thoughts; to be removed from routine and exploring new places; to be alone on a mountaintop. This big echoing house must be startled by its lone guest, accustomed as it is to a huge family that enjoys its time together. Big and empty as it is, it’s doing its best to embrace me.
In the morning the house is still cold. I have clearly not decoded the furnace. So first thing I start a fire in the wood stove from last night’s coals. In my robe, with a cup of coffee, I prop my feet in front of the fire. Outside, the house is blanketed in a smoky white fog and the fire and fog trigger a favorite memory.
I am 20. I have been camping at Linville Gorge near the falls with my boyfriend. We have spent a cold night sleeping on a 30 degree incline, deep in our down bags. This is the boyfriend I let slip away, though he earnestly held a ruby engagement ring out to me in the front seat of a Toyota in city traffic. Upon waking in Linville Gorge with the sound of the falls all around us on that long ago morning, we broke camp and drove away in search of some creature comforts. We found a rustic restaurant with a hearth and a blazing fire, and early on that foggy mountain morning we gratefully ordered huge breakfasts and produced our own bottle of campsite-chilled champagne to go with it.
In memory there is laughter, firelight, bubbles and complete relaxed pleasure in the company of another. How, I have asked myself many times, did I allow myself to discard that for the company of less joyful, more tortured souls? Thousands of firelit mornings lie between this one and that. But none so crystal clear, with a sense of wholeness and happiness. I was accepted as I was. I was encouraged to be more wholly myself that I ever had been. I was truly loved by another joyous and playful soul. In my innocence and ignorance I did not know the purity with which a boy first loves. Instead, I presumed a good deal less.
But I have, as a kind of marker, that memory. When I feel that whole and happy again I will recognize it and cherish it. And should that not happen I will simply hold as dear as a blood red ruby in a small box the memory of that morning. I believe the value of memories is as great as the pleasures of the moment, or the anticipation of the future.
The fog is lifting and I have my first sighting of what might lay beyond this porch. It promises to be a splendid day.