Up the long, winding road that runs the south side of town, past the clear-cut and through the shadowed tunnel of woods still waiting their turn with the loggers, we come to a stop at a well-marked intersection. To the right, "Christmas HappyLand" with its bonfire and free hot cocoa and the smiling young men who drive the hay trucks; to the left, a simple white tree-shaped sign: "Nobles 4 sale." We go left.
We pull into a wide driveway. There is one other car, and an older couple standing beside, who are laughing and talking with the owner about how crazy they are to wait until this late date to get a tree. "At least we're not alone!" the woman cackles and I smile at her. I don't tell her we intentionally wait this long, wanting to let Advent take root in us, wanting the splendor of Christmas to be fresh when it finally arrives. The owner comes towards us and shakes our hands. "You're the third customers today!" he says happily and tells us that this was his goal for the day: just three customers. The nobles are silently holding watch on a flat acre that spreads out in front of us. At their edges, a tower of forest, not for the taking. We pick out a saw and wander down a path. The fog is playing hide and seek among the rows, raindrops pearl along dark green branches. We are looking for something narrow, not too sparse; full, but not too round. I hear a flutter of small birds behind me, I turn to look but they are gone.
All morning long we have been talking about simplicity, about a quality we have been chasing for years that still eludes us. I see my husband coming towards me down one row of trees. The last five years have been hard on him, caring for a business during a recession. It is hard to remember when hours weren't long and burdens heavy. When he gets near enough, I say, "This is the feeling. This is what I'm looking for." He nods and tells me he thinks he's found it, the tree. A tiny click sounds beside me and I see the quick-flit shadow of a bird disappear deep into branches.
We find the tree and saw it down, carry it to the gravel drive and load it into the truck, hand over our 50 bucks and a promise to tell friends about this place, shake hands with the owner once again. The road home is curved and narrow and seems longer than the road up, and we turn Mariah Carey up loud when she comes on the radio because against all odds we still love that song and we always sing along with her until we are hoarse. When she is done, I turn off the radio and we watch out windows as the rain begins to tiptoe down.
"There was only one choice there," I say suddenly. The guys are talking about setting up the Christmas train and no one hears me. By the time we reach the highway again, I know.
At home we put up the tree and work out details. He couldn't bring work home, he'd have to work at the office longer sometimes, he says.
"I know, but that will make you more focused, and when you come home..." I wave my hand towards the tree, trying to find words to recapture the feeling of those silent rows, the fog, the drops of water that kissed our sleeves as we passed.
"What about the blog and your writing and all that?" he asks and I tell him that I don't need the internet for writing, but the library has wifi connection, and the coffee shop, and we will go out a couple times a week and do everything we need to do online.
"I'll be more focused, too," I say and I know it is true. Everytime I turn on a computer at home, I lose at least an hour.
We talk about possibilities. He could take the router to work with him, we could set timers on it, we could lock our computers in a drawer.
"We've tried that," I say. He reminds me that because we live in a rural area, no internet means no cell phones at home. I have to think about that for a long while. No texting my kids off and on during the day. I waver, then recover.
I want something, I tell him, that I can't seem to catch. I don't have the discipline, the willpower. Every one of my best laid plans fails. "What made it special out there," I say, pointing to the tree again, "was the simplicity of it. There was nothing to decide, no questions, nothing to reason or justify or choose between except which of the trees we liked best." I tell him how tired I am of wrestling with the ring in my pocket. Another section from the book has captured me and I ask if I can read it to him.
"Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea. That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, ' a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or storytelling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.' Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness."
He understands what I'm saying. "And you think having a house without internet connection will help you get this?"
I tell him how I am enticed by ideas and images and possibilities and the internet is a never ending portal to all of that. "I can't rest," I say. "I'm always wondering what someone is saying or what someone is thinking or how a person might do this or that..." He nods at me. He knows. He's lived with my spinning, nonstop brain for twenty-three years.
It can't be decided in a day, though there's something leaping in my chest, begging me not to be too rational, not to think too long about it. I can feel myself closing in on the whisp of something long desired and I am afraid the ring will betray me now. We agree to a trial period. A month, to see if he can make it work with his job, to see if we can really stand the quiet and the limitations. We agree to start on Christmas, with its twelve days of celebration of the coming of Peace and Light. A month, and then we evaluate. The rest of the weekend we find ourselves saying, "Oh, we won't be able to do this anymore!" or "You'd have to drive into town to do that!" But I am not nervous. I know we will just have to find new rhythms.
The tree stands in the living room, shimmering softly. Just before the sun goes down on solstice, we climb in the truck and head up the hill, a wild ride on a gravel road through winter pot holes and mud. The sky is starting to darken and I begin to be afraid we'll be too late, but we make another hard turn and then the road opens up and we are at the top. There is no sunset, the sky is its usual December overcast and the day ends by fading quietly into ever darkening shades of grey. "This is the feeling," I say to myself and I look out over thousands of treetops all the way to the glittering lights of the city, miles away, and I know I want this, no matter how hard, no matter how complicated, or how it makes other people question. We are shivered with cold and we get back into the truck so we can head downhill before the night arrives, too black for navigating potholes.
When we pull into the driveway minutes later, there is the tree in the window, silently holding watch. Hope rises in me. I am full of grey sky and night dawn, fog and raindrop, the tower of forest and lonely hilltops, the tiniest flit of bird disappearing into dark green branches.
- This article was an epiphany for me last week.
- I am keeping all my online spaces. I will probably update my Instagram account most often, so if you'd like to visit me there, you are welcome!
- It's always been a challenge for me to properly answer comments, but I suspect it will be more difficult now that my online time will be so limited. As always, please know that I read every comment and I appreciate them so much, even if I can't respond.
- If you email - which you are welcome to do! (toniaDOTsparrowATgmailDOTcom) - I will be checking emails fairly frequently on my phone when I go to town, but I will probably be slower to respond to them now.
- Disclaimer: I think the Internet is brilliant and I am thankful for all the ways we use it. This is about my own pursuit of simplicity, integrity and using my time to the best of my ability. I hope you will feel encouraged to make choices that are right for your own situation, that bring you closer to the desires of your own heart and that you never feel pressured to do or be something that isn't right for you. For those of you who don't struggle with internet addiction/overuse (for that is what it is, if I'm brutally honest) I hope you will just continue on in your freedom and be at peace!
There will be much more to say on this later, I think, as the weeks go by. I'll be here.
And merry, merry Christmas to all of you, with so much love.