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Of Woods And Words: The Art Of Gathering


FinalCutOWW01052011.mp35.51 MB

In the cabin, we have a framed comic strip which features a woodsman talking to a tree.
The cartoon man stands knee-deep in snow, confiding to the tree that, “People say ‘Don’t you get lonely, living all by yourself in the woods.’ And I say people! You know what I think about people . . .”

While I live a life in the woods filled with what Joni Mitchell called “picture-postcard charm,” I sometimes worry that my friends from the outside world, assume I am slowly turning into the cartoon man. In their eyes, one day I’m moving 55 miles out of town. Next I’m making friends with birds and other feeder visitors. Probably only a matter of time until I start talking to trees.

Yet we woods residents aren’t nearly as crusty as we seem. While we supposedly approach life with a bah-humbug sensibility, in actuality we need people just as much as the next bloke. We may be more content with solitude than those submerged in metropolitan ways, but we still enjoy the company of others.

When you live 55 miles up a dead-end road, people don’t pop in to see you very often. Paths cross infrequently. Catching up with friends loses its spontaneity and instead adopts an air of deliberation. Anymore, there’s an art to gathering and spending time with friends.

Yet, no matter how far I live in woods, the weeks of late December and early January always seem to bring an inordinate amount of pounding around on the highways of Minnesota. The holiday season marks the only time of year when all far-flung friends are in the same state. We try to capitalize upon our general proximity and planning starts months in advance because these holiday gatherings strive to get anywhere from two to eight people with conflicting schedule in the same place at the same time. Even with our forward thinking, finding a date that works for all involved parties is often delayed until the last minute as one conflict after another presents itself.

Because these gatherings are planned for the dead of winter, weather poses a significant threat to festivities even once a date has finally been decided. Inevitably some awful storm coincides with whatever plans we’ve made and we watch winter weather advisories stack up for the state. The ice and snow storm of this past new year’s weekend saw all but one of the guests showing up at the hostess’s home the night before the planned event in order to dodge the dodgy weather. Better to gather early than not gather at all.

Once everyone’s assembled in the same room, these gatherings are pretty Midwestern affairs. Each person brings enough food to feed everyone attending the event. We talk and talk and talk. We go to bed too late. For a few hours, it feels like we’ve never been apart and the miles separating us through the rest of the year are forgotten, at least until it’s time to say good-bye.

Still, one of my favorite parts of all this gathering is waking up in my own bed in the cabin on the morning after I’ve returned from the latest round of festivities. I hold memories of the good times of the days before close to my heart as I start my day safe in a world that includes just me and the birds and maybe a midday conversation with the trees.

Airdate: January 5, 2011