Last week felt hard, for no particularly good reason. I felt disconnected with Don, so small annoyances— he came home from Ingles with plastic shopping bags, or got into the bath himself without telling the kids to get ready for bed— irked me even more, making it hard to bridge the gap between us. The ubiquity of the kids’ devices was also getting under my skin; I cringed every time I saw Clayton sitting on the couch with his laptop open on his knees.
“Why don’t you just read a book?” I said, more than once, and even I could hear how peevish I sounded. Clayton is plowing his way through all twenty-two books on the Battle of the Books list, and half the time when he’s on his computer, he’s either researching history or writing fiction. The other half, he’s messaging with his friends, which, when I’m in a better mood, I can see as the social lifeline that it is.
I’m tired of working from home, descending every morning to the frigid office basement, where the space heater I put beside the desk warms either my toes or my fingers but never both. I’m sick of seeing my own face on Zoom, my sagging jowls and wrinkled forehead a constant reminder that I’m not as young as I feel on the inside. I’m also struggling with the end-of-semester blues, when the students with whom I have been spending three hours every day will disappear from my life, no matter how bonded we have become or how many times they promise they’ll stay in touch.
And then there’s the rising number of Covid cases, making me wonder if I am being an irresponsible parent by sending my kids to school, despite the safety measures in place and the fact that they are overjoyed to be there.
Needless to say, by Friday I was in a funk: cool with my husband, annoyed with my kids, disconnected from my colleagues, and disappointed in myself that I couldn’t shake my bad humor. Nothing was wrong exactly, so why did I feel on the verge of tears? I was even tired of my own unhappiness. The Christmas tree was decorated, the advent calendars on the mantle, the kids buzzing with the anticipation of the holidays . . . Our home had turned red and green around me, so why did I feel so blue?
By Friday afternoon, I’d decided I needed to do something to reset my sense of well-being. I told the kids that I wouldn’t be there when they woke up; I told Don he’d need to get up to make them breakfast. I didn’t set an alarm, but I woke the next morning just as the sky was beginning to lighten. I tiptoed around the kitchen, making tea and an egg on toast, praying the kids would stay asleep; it is so much easier to leave a sleeping house.
I chose a hike I had done before, because it required minimal driving and a rigorous climb. As soon as I pulled the car onto the empty shoulder, I felt the familiar elation of solitude rise up in me. And by the time I climbed out of the car into the crisp morning air and shouldered my small pack, I didn’t feel flat anymore: my heart was soaring.
Saturday morning might not have been so perfect. It had rained all Friday night; Saturday morning might have dawned rainy and overcast like so many other winter days. But it didn’t. The storm clouds still hung over the mountains, but the sun was rising in a bright blue sky and the air felt clean as ice.
My heart raced as I climbed steeply to the ridge. All week I’d been reading Anne Patchett as I exercised on the elliptical, and while I was grateful for both— the good book and convenient work-out— this feeling was something else entirely. My body felt made to climb this mountain, my legs strong, my mask-less mouth and nose sucking in the cool, sharp air.
By the time I made it to the ridge, the sun was high above the mountains to the east. On the western side, gray clouds dispersed over peaks powdered with white. Beside the trail, the flat green leaves of rhododendron held tiny snowflakes, and once again, I was struck by a sense of perfection. If I had dawdled for an hour, or stayed to eat my egg sandwich at the kitchen table instead of in the car, or prepared the pancake batter for the kids’ breakfast as I’d felt compelled to do, the snow would have been gone by the time I reached the ridge. But here I was, on the top of a mountain bathed in the brightest sun, the trail before me winding along a snow-dusted ridge.
The words of an old camp song came back to me, and I sang the chorus quietly to myself:
“I can show you morning, on a thousand hills,
And kiss you and give you seven daffodils,
And kiss you and give you seven daffodils.”
Anyone who knows me at all knows I can’t carry a tune to save my life, but there was no one there to hear me on that empty ridgetop, and it had been so long since I felt like singing.