some thoughts from last December

Last night I went for a walk. I’d recently read somewhere that beginning one’s walk coming from the opposite direction helps keep the walk fresh so I did that. The little green house at the corner of Manor Street is collapsing into itself in that way I love and I saw things about it, angles of wood and rust and glass, that I’d never noticed before. I saw for only the second time an old rusted out pickup truck on a hill just beyond a patch of snarled brown kudzu, sitting next to a basketball goal. The road where the thistle grew in the summer and where I often see the blue heron and the redtail hawk seemed to be in the midst of a season completely unfamiliar to me. I walked along the little dirt road out into the middle of the field and sat down in the cold grass for a few minutes. The sky was full of pink jet streams and the sunset over Sassafras Mountain was a luminous deepening salmon. I walked about half the way back to town in silence and about half the time I listened to a mix I made the other day—-Greg Brown, Heidi Berry, Keith Jarrett, George Harrison, Mark Knopfler. When I got into town I realized the town’s first annual Christmas parade was about to happen. There’s been an inconsequential, dinky little parade on the first Saturday morning in December for some time but the whole town had shown up for this parade and as night fell the energy built. I have a weakness for expressions of community like this one and I got a strong sense of authentic innocent joy from the buzz of the crowd. Jasper’s downtown area has begun to grow and become more vital lately with the addition of several funky little galleries and restaurants, and all the downtown merchants were out on the sidewalks behind tables crowded with glass baubles and fringed scarves and hot coffee and molasses crinkles. Lots of kids, lots of families, a few people like me observing and strolling. The parade was late starting but when it did I was standing by the local drugstore at the corner where the starting point was. there was a palpable childlike sense of excitement and anticipation in the crowd and I was reminded of the parade episodes of Northern Exposure and how intensely I felt a sense of community in those scenes, an expression of camaraderie and companionship. There was a loneliness too about the main character, Maggie, and I felt some of that myself last night. It wasn’t even really uncomfortable to feel that. It was just a part of the cold wind tossing the branches with their bright yellow lights around and the kids running around picking up the Squirrel Nut Zippers the Shriners were tossing out from the inevitable wildly circling miniature cars they were driving. As the parade got ready to start I noticed the mayor sitting in a car, an old Model T or something along those lines, at the beginning of the parade. The car was covered in white lights and a goofy looking model of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer nodded and bobbed, poking up through the open roof. As the mayor leaned back in his seat Rudolph’s nose kept bumping his bald head and he laughed afresh every time as if it was a totally new experience. Finally someone in charge hollered, “Okay, let’s do it, let’s have us a parade!” That made me smile. The exuberance of the evening was infectious as the floats began to go by but I still felt a bit separate, watching from the margins, peaceful but a little lonesome. The baton twirlers and drummers and cops and little kids doing handsprings were so full of joy at being part of this procession. I remembered that there is something about being in a parade, maybe especially a small one like this, that feels good. It’s a celebratory thing, a way of being both apart and a part of. i tend to waver somewhere between profound cynicism about the commercialism, hype, and bloated emotional energy attendant on Christmas and a childlike eagerness to re-experience old traditions and claim another manifestation of this space of paradox I keep being drawn back to. It’s a place of bare bones liminality and subdued coldness, of empty branches and dark long nights, and I’ve always felt a mandate of asceticism come at me when the solstice and then Christmas approach. Silence and stillness feel more right to me in response to the diminishment of light than does the cacophony of bells and voice and financial exchange and expense that dominates this time. Last night, at any rate, though, I didn’t feel cynical at all. A bit lonely perhaps but fresh and raw and open to the bluster and sweetness of every kitschy image I encountered, every expression of high spirits I saw and heard. The re-emergence of the light from its solstice hidey hole felt reassuringly close, and in the meantime, I thought, it will be okay to hang with the shadows.

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