I have been taking a lot of walks lately. Nearly every day I walk along one of the conservation trails near the Mill River. I have taken to calling that one my widow’s walk. I do a lot of thinking there, and it has become my refuge when the empty house gets to be too much for me.
It has been a few months though, since I have taken the trails up to the summits along the Holyoke range. I had promised myself to get a little hiking along the ridgeline in this week during the house showings, but things were too crazy for that. I finally got out to Mt. Norwottuck today, and as I was starting on the trail, it occurred to me that the delay had pushed the trek onto the last afternoon of summer.
Heading up the long familiar trail, I assigned some meaning to the day. I decided I was climbing up to claim my title as a Survivor.
I have already made a lot of progress on this trip, as I enter the final months of my Crazy Year. The fog has fully lifted, and I am getting better at managing laughter and tears at the same time, as I did this morning when I noticed a notorious photo taken after a family hike many years ago, involving a red squirrel and a peach a careless hiker had left out of her pack. Laughter at the story behind the picture, and tears I would never hear her tell it again. So it goes.
There is more to surviving than merely continuing to breathe. Life has to go on, and this week I punched through some big barriers on that front. The house has a buyer, and I am getting a handle on where I am headed next. After months of nothing but clearing out the house and just processing my thoughts, I finally feel like I am ready to get back to work.
Just as I reached the clearing at the top to claim my title, the day decided to teach me a little lesson about overreaching. A gentle rain started, as if to remind me that the tears were not over yet. The rain gradually got a little heavier, so I grabbed the shell out of my pack, put it on, and headed back down without stopping to eat the lunch I had packed. Even though there wasn’t much of a view due to the weather, I still felt like the climb had been worth it. My feet felt sure and steady, and I no longer felt the weight of my grief constantly pressing down on me as it had for so many of my earlier trips. There was something satisfying about the crunch the gravel made under my boots as I made my way back to the trailhead. I am learning to be alone without it being a burden again.
On the way down I decided that since this was the last summer day I would ever have at the house I should make the best of it, and planned to have the last summer cookout on the porch, just for one. I stopped at the store on the way back for a few things and then headed home.
The sky didn’t look too bad when I left the store, but by the time I got out of the shower the rain had come in, heavier this time. I wondered how memorable this last summer evening would be, but I pressed on. The day decided to reward my patience, as the eastern sky started to clear a bit by the time the coals were ready.
I paid a bit more attention to the burger than normal, realizing it was the last and I wanted to remember it. A burger, the last bottle of Ipswitch Summer Ale, and a heap of potato salad. The quintessential summer meal.
I sat down in her favorite spot to enjoy the view. As I munched, I thought about all the afternoons with family and friends we had enjoyed there. Especially I thought about the ones we had lost over the years: not just Barbara, but Tom, K.C., Mom, and Kris., too. So many gone, but so many memories of times together.
I spent one more evening watching the summer weather roll in and out as we did so many times, never tiring of it. Another band of rain came in and I sat dry on the porch as I listened to it come down the roof and splash into the gutters and downspouts. The sky seemed to want to give me the full show, as the late day sun punched through the clouds at a low angle and lit up the hills with that extraordinary light that I can never capture with a camera. Then, just for good measure, it threw in a rainbow.
I stayed out there on the porch, listening to Battlefield Band pipe out the last day of summer until the sun went down.
This was our Summer House. We spent our spring in the little ranch house, and our summer here. Now autumn is upon me and I leave it alone. I promised myself that I would leave this place when it became a museum, and the time is right for me to go. So many things have converged this week it makes my head spin.
At the very beginning I called this a journey. Five months ago I drove a stake in the ground and said I needed to leave the front door behind. Now I know more than that.
This Valley is my home. It is beautiful place, and I could not have survived this year without the support of so many people, old friends and new, who welcomed me into their lives when mine had collapsed. It was the perfect place to raise our family, and for years I put up with ridiculous commutes to stay here.
Now the family is grown, and in fact most of them are living to the east, which is also where my work lies. I have good friends, and a community I love, but no anchor here. I don’t know how long this next leg of my journey will last, but I know it takes me away from here.
It is time for this Hobbit to leave the Shire.