Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Year Is Coming To An End

This year is coming to an end. I feel it in the cold wind driving down the canyons of the coastal rivers, in the roadside hail and slush from last night’s torrent of cold rain, hail, and icy winds. The winter sun, in midafternoon, is almost touching the southern horizon over the slate gray ocean. There’s a big surf, but there’s also whitecaps going against the waves, driven by the icy wind.

I drive into the quaint, coastal-tourist town, now healing a bit from the storm nearly a month ago. Fallen trees are gone, power poles are restored, and there is a bustle of activity on the main street, as the town has filled up for the New Year’s celebration. There’s an excitement in the air. Its time to celebrate, even if its just the turning of the calendar. We are all, perhaps, ready for a new year, a fresh start.

I meet my hearing aid specialist at his beach house. His wife and granddaughter are running around, excited to be leaving for a stroll on the beach. A fire blazes in the wood stove, and the cabin is losing its winter chill. They are all thrilled to have left the City, and found their way to their beach retreat, ready to relax and enjoy the ocean and the quiet town and just some time together. The little girl tells me her name is Victory and she is three. And, at her next birthday, she will be four. For her, this is profound and she is filled with seriousness in this telling.

The bookstore is crowded, with book lovers poring over the new titles, finding some treasure to read on New Year’s Day, in the quiet of their cabins and motel rooms. Every time I come to this town, I have to stop here. Where else does one find a poster of Hemingway next to one of Poe, and next to Che Guevara smoking a cigar? One lady’s loud voice fills the store with her opinions on authors and her review of her family holiday gatherings. Her companion looks pained and embarrassed for her, and simply wants to find a book and leave. The rest of us nod silently in agreement, and sympathy.

The book store clerk recognizes me as both a local and a regular, and greets me with a grin, and a grimace at the loud lady’s commentary. The normal atmosphere here is a hushed excitement about books and quiet conversations about new discoveries and greetings with old friends, culminating with a stroll to the coffee house a few blocks away, new books in hand.

I, too, am drawn to the coffee house, and the owner makes me a great latte, and wishes me a joyous new year. The hot coffee feels especially delightful as I make my way back to the car, the chill winds of the late afternoon making me glad I have my fleece and my coat on, but wishing for my gloves and hat.

Driving home, along two bays, the beach, and across a number of rivers, the solstice time emits a slow, weak light that turns everything to silver. Even green trees have a glint of platinum, as they reflect in the bay waters at high tide. The sun hides behind thin clouds, its aurora turning fat as it fills the lower sky over the bay and the ocean. All too soon, the light fades even more, and its dusk at 4:30. At least, the days are getting longer now, if only by a few minutes.

The gas station attendant gives me a wave, as he scrubs my windshield clean of the last week’s worth of rain, sleet, and road mud. He’s happy to be working, and he knows we last saw each other as he was shuffling down the courthouse halls, in belly chains, on his way to court. We don’t mention that meeting, and we both prefer to simply wish each other a happy new year. And life goes on.

Darkness now upon me, and I pull into my driveway. The lights are on, bringing a warm bronzy feeling to the cold night air. I open the door and the warmth and smell of dinner and the arms of my loving wife await me.

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