In the meadow behind my house, just before the woods begin, lives a spot where the deer come to lay at night as summer turns to fall turns to winter. I have never actually seen them during one of their sleepovers, only the imprints of their bodies that they leave behind. After their stay the tall grasses are tamped down, long stems lie sideways in tidy rows, stalks rough and hay-like, lines upon lines. There are large oval indentations and smaller ones, places where a warm body has lain for a few hours with grasses popping up in the free areas separating one body from the next.
We have made it through a lot this year – all of us collectively - we are survivors. And now the year is drawing to a close. The last full moon of the year sits outside my window and I try to think back to who I was a year ago, but it is difficult. She seems to be lost to time and worry and fear. So much uncertainty has washed over each of us this year, wave after wave, season after season. And still we persist.
The meadow at this time of year is a different kind of beautiful. It is no longer strong and green, but many shades of brown, delicate and fragile. The cold winter air rattles through its stems on windy days, a light carpet of snow or ice resting upon it on stormy ones. No new shoots are popping up to reveal ambitious and colorful flowers to the sun. The sun stays steady overhead, but her light is whiter and weaker and I am all the more grateful for the bit of warmth given as we burrow further and further into this winter.
In the mornings, I walk through this back meadow. The dogs love to explore this area, sniffing and pacing, my younger boy sometimes spins in a circle. The darker mornings seem to invite the deer to linger longer and I have occasionally spied a cluster still present in the woods beyond. When this happens, my dogs are instantly alert, their ears twitch, their bodies stiff and leaning forward. For just one quick moment, we all are still - me, the dogs, and the deer - in the dark that is so quiet. Then a rustle, then small rumble as hooves trod the dried leaves, the sound of frantic-ness, of escape, and white tails bop up and over the forested hill, the spell broken.
During yesterday’s tromp through the meadow, it struck me that most of this year has been like the indentations left by the deer, the reality being the result of things not-seen. This virus, all the loss. The proof is found only in what is left behind, all of us bewildered and stripped somewhat bare, the evidence of nesting and not the giant fulsome creatures themselves. The deer seem to stay with us as much in their absence as their presence. Sometimes, it is the things that we do not see that stay with us the most.
So much of this year has felt a wisp or even a ghost of the year prior, we have gone about our lives with the echoes of things done in normal times. Paler, masked versions of the lives we typically lead. We haunt our homes with visions of before, especially now as we make our way through the holiday season.
With the reality of a vaccine rushing at us and a change in government, it feels as though some sort of corner has been turned. At least, for this I am hoping. There is so much to be grateful for this year, but I also see a lot of work ahead. But first, the winter. I am starting to dream just the teensiest bit about the time-after, when we will emerge and move back into the normal glare of our lives. I know this is no time soon, but with 2021 just over the hill, this is where my mind wants to wander. I am not a big one for resolutions and this year I am letting all of those expectations go. I am hoping, too, to let go the ghosts of what-never-was in 2020. Put them down, shake loose of the dreadful pull of all the things that did not happen as had been expected, anticipated this time last year. This is the only way forward, I tell myself. This is one of the few things I do know.