Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas walk

Rick arrived home a little bit early yesterday and I had some Christmas cards I wanted to get into the mail stream before 5 p.m., so I used his early arrival as an excuse to walk to the post office rather than drive. I knew the kids didn’t want to go with me, but once he was home, there was no reason for me not to go by myself.

It was a chilly evening, but I was bundled up. On Bedford Road there was the usual cascade of rush hour traffic, but on the footpath that winds alongside the edge of the woods, I was safely removed from it. In the Town Center, the pace of traffic was calmer. Lights twinkled from the windows of the antique houses that ring the rotary. The library parking lot was still half-full just minutes before closing; it’s typical in this town that a good portion of the population was apparently preparing for a long holiday weekend by loading up on books and DVDs.

In the backyard of the house next to the library, a bonfire was burning. I’m not sure this is really allowed, but it was obvious that a good time was taking shape, and I admired their creativity in lighting a big winter fire. Six or eight people were gathered around it already, with more making trips in and out of the house, calling to each other, offering help with this or that. I breathed in the sharp smoky air that drifted off the flames as I kept walking up the hill past our church and past the town Christmas tree. It seems like just days ago that I was presiding over the refreshment table for the town tree lighting, but that was actually the first week of December. This month always passes by so quickly, no matter whether you find the pace exhilarating or frantic. With its unbroken sequence of gatherings and performances, public events and private parties, December always rushes along.

I walked past the school, the parking lot already empty less than two hours after the closing bell. Even the custodial staff was gone; the buildings were closed up tight for vacation. It’s satisfying to know that everyone who works so hard to make the school day run smoothly, both literally and figuratively, is somewhere else now, taking much-needed time off.

I headed down the Church Street hill past the playing fields. The grass was shorn and frosty. All fall, there’s a steady stream of soccer players on those fields, from the toddler groups playing “Sharks and Minnows” at eight o’clock on Saturday morning to the South American nationals who use the field after their work day ends and play well into the evening. Soccer ends at last once the holiday season starts, and the fields looked abandoned.

At the base of Church Street I passed into the cemetery. DPW trucks must have been doing maintenance earlier; the powdery snow on all the pathways were well broken in already with tire tracks, so it was easy to walk despite the inch or two of slippery new snowfall. Even in the gathering darkness, I could see how many gravesites were adorned with Christmas decorations: small trees, wreaths, even the occasional ornament. I wondered what they do with those little evergreens after Christmas. A bell tinkled in the breeze from a nearby cluster of stone markers.

At the far side of the cemetery I exited back onto Bedford Road and crossed back onto the footpath. I’d been walking for 45 minutes and was almost home. For reasons I couldn’t explain, this early evening walk felt more to me like Christmas than any of the festivities that I’ve taken part in this month. I’m not sure why that is; to me there’s just a certain congruence in marking Christmas through a quiet meditative walk, absorbing the winter’s hush. And as much as I enjoyed the town tree lighting, the church pageant, and a couple of great parties this season, after my walk yesterday, I finally felt ready for Christmas. More than anything else, that walk had put me in the right frame of mind to begin a holiday of peace and love and goodwill.

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