I have never been a fan of change. I like routine, a daily ritual of sorts that gives me a sense of continuity and provides at least the illusion that I know what’s going to happen next. Even so, I have to concede that, if we are to grown, change must inevitably come and it is often a force for good. For example: I am tremendously thankful I no longer have a meltdown the day after Christmas.
Throughout my childhood (and on into high school), the Christmas season was the one time of year I felt connected to a deeper way of living. As a little child, it was the belief in magic: Flying reindeer, animals that spoke on Christmas Eve, and a benevolent guardian who loved nature as much as I did. I drew comfort from the rituals my family kept year after year: The tree, the lights, and the music let me escape my growing pains and gave me permission to feel like a child again. It was blissful – until the day after. The magic I’d reveled in since Thanksgivings was gone and it would be nearly a year before it came again. As I got older, the feeling was harder to capture and some years it didn’t come at all and I was utterly, utterly bereft. It wasn’t until I was in college that the winds of change began to rise.
I was living in my first apartment, which overlooked a lovely little stream and farmers’ fields beyond. It was a grey November afternoon and for the first time in years I decided to go on a nature walk. Though I’d always been a friend of nature, the pressures of high school, coupled with surgery to remove a brain tumor (and its substantial after effects), followed by the stress of leaving home for college had pushed The Wild far from my consciousness. I really hadn’t talked to Her in years.
I wandered along the creek for a while, did a little bird watching, and sat on a fallen log, watching the water flow by. I was about to start back when I was overwhelmed by an urge to wade the creek and see what lay in the fields and forest beyond. I was wearing tennis shoes and the cold was rising, but I couldn’t help it. I needed to go. I tried to walk across a log that lay over the water, but it rolled on me and I fell to my knees in the icy flow. Undaunted, I continued on and climbed the steep, muddy bank on the other side. I should have felt miserable: My shoes were full of ice water, my pants were soaked, and my shirt and hands were caked with mud, but I felt different, something familiar, something alive. I lifted my hands and inhaled the scent of damp earth, then lifted them skyward to catch the wind. I shivered – not with cold, but exhilaration. This was it! This was the feeling I longed for, the sense of connection I felt at Christmas. I hadn’t outgrown it, I just didn’t know where to find it!
As another Christmas season goes quietly to its rest, I look to the future with hope and joy. Like Ebeneezer Scrooge, I am changed, transformed. I have found the true meaning of Christmas in my love of The Wild, and I will keep it throughout the year.