It's morning, between 7 and 8 a.m: Still 20 below. Steam is rising from the river as it babbles by. I covered the deck with sunflower seeds and a flock of mourning doves has now timidly moved in for breakfast.
Now it's 8:15 a.m. : As the sun slowly rises, more birds come. Now there is a flock of redpolls taking residence. They are easily startled by the gray squirrels (four) who have made their way to the Sunflower Diner on the river. Temperature is minus 18.
Last night was cold, deep to-the-bone cold. I had spent the better part of the cold day indoors, emptying my closet. I had had a long talk with a friend who had just helped her widowed mom move from their family home. As she described going through closets and cupboards and boxes in the attic, my mind turned to my own home, empty of the kids who grew up here, yet still full of junk. The stars had aligned properly and I was given a day to begin a purging process that a lot of healthy adults ought to consider.
How's it workin' for you?
In order to learn how to let go, it's important to understand why we hold on to things. There are books, magazine articles, blogs, and television shows to help us understand this compulsion. I began to see one of my problems as soon as I tried to sit down in my office and do two things at the same time. My "important papers" pile next to the printer was buried under early drafts of poems. A box of paper clips had fallen behind the desk, and amidst all those cords and wires they had found a new little community to live in. My tax paperwork was mingled with photos I needed to scan, and boxes of schoolwork were piled next to the door. In other words, there was no room for me.
So the other day, I emptied the office. Took everything out except the largest two desks and two bookcases. All the books, all the piles, all the files, even the rug. Then I began to reinvent my office. I only put back items necessary for writing, or helpful for writing. I got a comfortable office chair, took most of the tchotchkes away, removed half the photos on the walls, and put a new rug down. Suddenly I had a place that welcomed me and the work I had to do.
It's a process
However, the hallway was now full of stuff. I had at least six boxes of books and ten piles of paperwork mingled with photos and memorabilia and textbooks and workbooks staring at me. Oh, and of course, all my clean laundry folded in piles as well.
Now it's 8:30 a.m. : A handful of red breasted nuthatches has arrived with more redpolls. The sun is making the frozen apple tree branches look like silver filigree. There are over a hundred tiny birds out there pecking at seeds. The temperature is now minus 12.
Back to my home improvement. I had been wanting to go through my closet to weed out clothes I never wore. I'd done this three other times over the past five or six years. Every time it feels great. I donate the extra clothes to whatever place will take them, and I know someone else will end up with some pretty nice stuff. I am more sure of who I am the older I get. Now when I ask, "Will I ever wear this again?" I am sure of the answer, and I don't wince or double guess myself when I see an old favorite in the pile on the floor.
So before putting the hallway laundry away, I emptied the bedroom closet. I tried things on. I made a big pile on the floor of clothes for someone else. Then I dusted and vacuumed the empty closet, and began to refill it with a much smaller wardrobe. I realized it was still way more than I needed, or even wanted, but at least it was a start. Then the clean laundry had a respectable place to go, and so it went.
Now it's 8:45 a.m.: Redpolls and doves and squirrels are gone. Now about 20 chickadees dance in the apple trees. Sixty percent of the seeds are gone. Two hairy woodpeckers shine in the sun.
Presently the hallway has fewer clothes, and fewer boxes. My bedroom has a tidy closet, and a huge pile of discarded clothes grows like a blob in the midst of it all. My office is tidy and serene. It is a start. I need to work on books next. Last night as I tried to start on weeding books, the power went out. Somehow I was being asked to take a break. The room became immediately black. There was no wind, and no explanation for why electricity vanished. But it had. And it was late, much later than I'd realized, I saw when I aimed my flashlight at the alarm clock.
Peace and quiet
I lit a few candles, moved the big pile of clothes to a corner, and waited. It was amazingly quiet. I looked out the window to ensure the neighbors had also lost their lights. Overhead the black sky was full of stars, more than usual, more than I'd expected to see. Jupiter was so big and bright, and the million little stars' light seemed to brighten the cold night sky all by themselves. What a beautiful place to live, I thought. Woodstove filled, house warm, candlelights dim and flickering ... a perfect end to a thoughtful and frigid day in the mountains. I brushed my teeth and went to bed, dreaming of rubrik's cubes, solitaire, chess ... games of planning and thinking, training me for a more organized life when I awoke. No matter why I have so much stuff, I can do something about it. I can. I will.
Now it's 9:15 a.m. : Four white breasted nuthatches, six blue jays, two deer, one female cardinal and 30 redpolls. Temperature has risen to minus 6. A glorious blue-sky day in the middle of winter, in the middle of the Adirondacks. And with a goal, another day when I can try to make life simpler and more serene.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths, and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.