2021 has arrived. We’re well beyond the future dates I used to idly try to imagine during boring high school classes. It’s a strange feeling. We are further into the future than past me was able to conceive of — where the hell does that put us?
I don’t know. What I do know is that hunting season is over. Deer season anyway. That deer season ends around January 1st is one of those factoids that I have always vaguely known, but never had a reason to care about. Now I do.
Most of the land surrounding our current home, the land I call the 100 acre wood, because, well, it’s roughly 100 acres, isn’t technically part of the property we live on. We live on three acres surrounded by those 100 acres of woods. Those 100 acres are leased to a hunting club, so we can’t really do much exploring during deer season. But that’s over now and we’ve been getting out there on the dry days, which has been nice.
About a half mile back behind the house there’s a creek bed, never more than ten feet wide, but it’s enough for the kids to get their feet wet and explore. I haven’t tried yet, but I’m hopeful that my cellular hotspot will have some signal out there so I can work creekside when it warms up. I need a good portable desk.
Not really though. Really I don’t need anything. I need less things. It’s the time of year when I find myself taking stock of things and seeing what I can streamline, simplify, and do without. It’s my form of a new year’s resolution I think. Or perhaps some seasonally wayward attempt at early spring cleaning. Whatever the case this time of year is when I go through my life and think, what can I get rid of? What can I do without? What can I improve on? What is no longer necessary?
It’s a fun thought process. I always change things up. Sometimes silly things, like the number of spoons in the drawer. Too many damnit. Out spoons, out. Other times I realize a don’t need some tool I’ve previously considered indispensable. Some other tool I hardly pay attention to will turn out to do the job even better and I didn’t realize it because I’d stopped thinking about the problem when I found the first solution.
The problems is those first solutions are often ugly hacks, temporary patch jobs, but then you forget to go back and redo them. Or I do anyway. It’s good to go back and check your old work, make sure there aren’t any hack jobs left around.
I don’t do this annual taking stock to change my life, it’s more of a cleaning out. It’s a chance to pull off the rutted road for a few days and see what all is going on down there in the grooves. This is especially true when I get past the silly stuff like too many spoons in the drawer and start looking at my thought patterns.
Any pattern of thought soon becomes transparent. That’s part of what the pattern is for, and for many things that’s good. I don’t want to think what should I do? every morning. I want to make a cup of coffee and relax for a bit, like I always do. Still, I am sometimes alarmed to find patterns I didn’t know I had when I step back and detach, and really look at myself.
David Foster Wallace has a parable that I think is relevant:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
Wallace’s whole text is worth a read if you’re not familiar (it was a commencement speech originally), but the salient point is, to quote Wallace’s own explication: “the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.”
I think “realities” is too vague. I don’t know exactly what Wallace had in mind, but for me “realities” are the patterns of thought that govern my day.
These patterns are hardest to see because they are the things that provide the framework in which we live. They’re the things we decided way back when we couldn’t even conceive of 2021 as a now that would eventually be now. They’re the things we figured out so long ago we can’t even recall exactly what we figured out. Still, they’re there in the background informing everything we do. They’re the water in which we live.
When you see the water around you, you see yourself differently. Sometimes that means you find a few spoons you don’t need. Other times it might mean something more.
So every year, around this time, I take a pen, a scrap of paper, and go for a walk. Woods are ideal for this, there’s such a tangle of growth and life all around you that somehow the tangle of your own thoughts becomes less intimidating. From the tangle patterns emerge, pathways of thought through the trees. Somewhere in there I try to figure out what it is I am doing, where I am going, where I want to be going, and which patterns are going to close the gap between those two things. With any luck I find my way home before dark.