In the presence of fire

 Melissa O’Brien

It’s a quiet time of year now, as we begin that slow and ominous trek to shorter and colder days. Thank goodness for the brilliance along the way: the last gasp hues of the maple leaves, the deep red of the apples and, in my case, the bright pop of the yellow table out on the deck in a landscape otherwise gray and white and brown and rainy. I know it’s time to put that outdoor furniture away, but, gosh it’s so hard to admit that yes … the glory days of summer have already ended.

When I was young I lived in southern California for a short time. I took a teaching job at a school in a seaside town, sight unseen, thinking I might be a sunny, beachy kind of girl. I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong. To be sure, it was beautiful there and the climate was pleasing, but I felt like a fish out of water all the time, like a New Englander out of the orchard. I longed for apple pies and chilly nights. I wandered all over the place trying to find small towns that had a church in the middle and a general store to shop in. It dawned on me while I was living the fish taco and surfing life – community is important to me. I wanted to live somewhere where I ran into my neighbors, where people come to know each other over coffee at the local coffee joint. I came to understand that growing up in a small town in upstate New York, hiking in the Adirondacks and skiing in Vermont, sitting by a lake in the summer with my family, had embedded in me a sense of love of place and that there was no ocean big enough to wash my soul clean of that longing.

These places where we grow and live and come together matter. And sometimes it’s not until we leave that we come to understand that.

I came back home to the northeast and haven’t left since. It figures, of course, that one of my son’s would end up in Lake Tahoe and the other in Montana, but, hey … this is how life works, right? We strike out on the adventure, slay a dragon or two along the way, then head back home (maybe? hopefully?) to share the stories. 

It’s getting colder and darker but there’s an upside, of course: this is the time of year we sit by the fire together. We build fires in our woodstoves and fireplaces and we sit still there, sometimes mesmerized by the flames, other times unable to leave the comforting warmth. We find our tribal selves in the presence of fire.

Enjoy the warmth of the season, enjoy the stories, enjoy each other’s fine company. Here we all are, right where we are meant to be.