I wasn’t in my usual hurry to put up my Christmas decorations. Most years, I’d be eager to add some sparkle to my little brown cabin in the now-brown woods, to say farewell to November and let DecemBear make my knotty pine a bit nicer before winter closed in around me. This year, though, I didn’t feel the same post-Thanksgiving, pre-holiday-party push. I’d just come back from “away,” and my little house on the lake didn’t need any extra cheer whatsoever to welcome me home.
“I’m baaaaack!” I called as I burst through the door a couple days after Thanksgiving. No one was inside, and Tom was still schlepping our luggage out of the Subaru. But, as usual, the house answered. It hugged me.
How does a house hug? Well, it’s a subtle and very subjective thing. I can only speak from what I’ve felt here, in this one home, but I imagine house hugs are like human hugs—each one good but different—minus the squeezing part. By the time I made it back up the mountain, down the Bemis track, up the winding camp trail and down my driveway, surrounding myself with my favorite stuff again felt pretty darn good.
I do love to travel, to explore new places, meet new people, and revisit old favorites. Especially in the colder months, I take any opportunity I can to “get out and around.” And, if I’m really lucky, I end up where I can exchange my snowshoes for Tevas. Although I didn’t get that far south this trip, I did enjoy a 70-degree November beach day in NH with my sister-in-law. Then I headed cross-country to meet up with Tom and my girls and spend Thanksgiving with the rest of our western family in Couer d’Alene, Idaho. The food was awesome. The east-west family reunion was even better. (And yes, Jon’s Big Green Egg did produce one hell of a tasty Quirky Turkey.) I was gone for a little over two weeks, but it felt longer. And when I finally came across the threshold again, I knew I’d traveled about as far away from Rangeley as possible in the continental U.S.
“Wow, by the time I get back home, I’ll need to hang up DecemBear!” I said to Helen. We were in the Las Vegas airport, waiting to change planes for the last leg of our outbound trip. The airport was abuzz with LEDs, electronic melodies and the jingle-jangle of slot machines folks had to throw their money into before and after they hit the Strip. I wondered what their deal was, imagining they needed way more holiday glitz than the kiddie advent calendar I’d hang on my cellar door and the string of lights around my three-stooled bar by the wood stove.
“Maybe we really are crazy,” I said to Tom as we finally turned onto our road. (It’s a common joke between us, one that somehow gets repeated just at that point in the journey when most folks, even those from around here, start to question how level-headed we are to have put so many miles of dirt road between us and town.) But then the beagles began stirring with anticipation in the back seat and we could all feel our special spot drawing us down the home stretch. One last turn, the soft crunch of tires on early snow, and…phew…there was our cabin in the headlights, waiting just as we’d left it. (After more than 20 years of coming back up here, the phew feeling never really stops. Even though we don’t drive away from October through April anymore, the relief at seeing the place still standing, surviving wind and fire and other acts of God and man, is hard-wired.)
Did my house smell this nice when I left? I didn’t think so as I opened the door to remnants of Rangeley Balsam room spray still clinging in the air, mingling with the vanilla potpourri in the L.L Bean kettle atop my wood stove. “It’s my own Bemis spa treatment,” I declared back in October when I dumped aromatherapy drops into the old blue kettle of water that would keep me warm, soothe my dry skin and rejuvenate my senses.) And I swore my knotty pine woodwork had mellowed since before I left. These walls felt homey compared to what I’d surveyed and said needed a boost—maybe some new paintings or a couple more cute moose and loon nicknacks for a splash of visual variety during the long months ahead.
“If this is crazy, I’ll take it any day,” I declared to no one in particular the next morning. I was sitting in my own chair, drinking my own coffee, admiring my very own slice of beautiful, wild lake. What great memories I’d made spending premium quality family time in two beautiful homes on both ends of the country! But after five different beds, four climate changes, three hotel rooms, two airports and one major case of jet lag, I was content to kick back and let the quiet of being back off the beaten track settle over me. I was grateful to be entering my second December of year-round Rangeley living, and to have the fresh perspective of traveling away now and again. And I sure was glad to be on the far side of saying: “To heck with all that home for the holidays crap, let’s go to Vegas.” Yup, with Black Friday avoided and December ushered in, all was calm and bright in my world as far as I could see…and would remain so, as long as I moved a tiny Christmas bear around a door hanging.
“Oh, jeez, DecemBear…!” I remembered. Guzzling the rest of my coffee, I sprang from the glider rocker to go hunt down the little critter.