Gifts sometimes come in strange packages. The best one my husband and I ever received came as a “pink slip” from the company he worked for nearly 20 years. Of course, it didn’t seem like such a great gift at the time. It was devastating and frightening and it didn’t get much better as the months passed with no job prospects. Gradually, though, we began to see the situation in a new light. Before, he could never walk away from a 20-year job with a good salary and great benefits. Now, un-tethered, we were free to go anywhere and do anything.
We sold our house, furniture and second car, and embarked on an adventure that would eventually take us to a wilderness lodge on the US/Canadian border. Forty-five miles from the nearest town, the lodge offered winter activities including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice-fishing, and dog sledding – along with fabulous, gourmet cuisine from its famed restaurant.
Ours were not glamorous jobs – I cleaned cabins and waited tables; John worked maintenance. The lodge provided our “housing” – one room with a basin; the toilet conveniently located in the closet (no kidding). A community shower and tub were accessible down the hall. We shared these accommodations with eight, college-aged kids. There was no TV or radio. We were paid once a month – our two checks together totaled less than four figures.
We arrived the day before Thanksgiving. The snow base was approximately three feet and temperatures plummeted to 30 below at night warming to single digits by midday. New to such extreme weather, we quickly learned that in sub zero temperatures: every drop of moisture in your nose freezes instantly when you step outside – instant “nose-icle”; nose bleeds are not unusual; static shock is a way of life; birch trees moan in the bitter cold; electric blankets for car batteries are necessities.
Despite the severe temperatures, rustic accommodations, and meager pay, we were totally care-free and blissfully happy. We spent endless hours cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. We had moose encounters and wolf sightings; and delighted daily as the dog-sled team rocketed pass, fur flying. Our favorite activity, though, was gazing at the incredible night sky. Layered in every piece of clothing owned, we spread a blanket atop the frozen lake, lying down to observe the dazzling beauty of a hundred billion stars.
One night, as the comet Hale-Bopp blazed across the western sky, a lunar eclipse evolved quietly overhead. That night, standing in the middle of a frozen, snow-covered lake, dwarfed against the celestial backdrop, feeling ever so tiny and small, we saw again through a child’s eyes and heart as the world’s magic unfolded. We watched as the moon played hide and seek behind a shadow and a giant comet waved as it passed on its great, galactic journey.
What a precious gift to be able at mid-life to shed adult cares and responsibilities and rediscover the long-forgotten joy and wonder of a child. We cherish it still.
Author’s Note: This appeared in the March 2006 issue of Change.