There’s a storm brewing outside my house, but I’m sitting comfortably cozy on the couch by a warm fire. Leaves are being ripped off the trees and tossed against the windows. The sky is grayish and brown, and a smattering of rain drops fall against the pane.
I only have an hour before I have to get dressed and go out to meet friends.
The three dogs are lying as close to the wood stove and they can possibly get without singing their fur. These dogs are family pets, and, at 12 years old, are getting a little more feeble and senile. They love their warmth and their comfort and their company.
As the storm worsens Happy whines. He moves from me to the window and back again, sitting straight urgently and glancing at me from the corner of his eye. He needs constant reassurance that it’s okay to relax. Anxious or Manic would have been a better moniker for him.
The other dogs are not nearly as bothered.
Daisy, the second dog, flicks her eyes up at me whenever I shift in my seat, but her expression is trusting and her body language exudes calm as she rests on the carpet. Whatever will be, will be, as long as it’s ok with you is pretty much her motto. And as long as she has her human companionship, she’s content.
Mable, infamous now for her failing hearing, lifts her head at the most recent attack of debris on glass. The house rattles and she grumbles audibly but settles her head back on the floor. No storm will fully disturb her from her slumber. So long as she has warmth and comfort, she’s determined not to leave it.
The windows creak against the onslaught of a fresh bout and I can feel little breezes rushing through the invisible cracks this old house has acquired over the past 100 years of its existence. It’s funny how not once I’ve been afraid of ghosts in this place, even though I’m the biggest friggin scaredy cat I know. And somehow a storm makes me feel all the more safe, which is ludicrous considering all flailing hundred year old trees outside right now.
I think about our other animals outside. The one old arthritic sheep, a remnant of a childhood past, sits at the top of the hill, observing and absorbing everything. No promise of hay in the barn much less a storm can persuade her. We built a makeshift structure to keep her semi-protected in her stubborn post, but at that age, it’d probably be the way I’d choose to go too.
In that little barn which she now neglects, there are three barn cats, fluffy and thick in their growing winter coats, probably nestled somewhere in the hay.
Although I know they’re all safe, on a night like this I wish I could herd them all inside and around the fire where we could all be safe and dry together.
When I was little, I would imagine that being inside this great big old ranch house was like being at sea. The house was a giant wooden ship getting tossed about by the waves but I was always safe inside it.
Now, that memory makes me thankful to be where I am, cozy and content. It sounds old fashioned and story-bookish, but I think that’s the point of it all is it not? I’m surrounded by the artifacts of my family from over a decade of sporadic living in this house. Their touch is everywhere: a quilt sewn by my mom, logs hewn by my dad, scribblings on pieces of paper by my niece, well-worn books resting in shelves that all of us have leafed through over the years or left pen impressions in.
When I was little I used to hope for big snowstorms that would lock my family inside the house. There was always the promise of warmth, food, books to read and games to play. It felt like the best place on earth. Now I’m grown up and the threat of getting snowed in makes living in the country less desirable.
I watch as the giant tree in the yard flails its branches in the storm, losing its fall mantel in the violence of someone ripping off their own coat. The gray brown wind continues to whirl like a monster against the walls, daring us to be afraid, and yet, I am at peace. I bask in the contentment of a hundred other just such afternoons and evenings, growing up out here in these bare hills. In summer time the hills were my favorite place to be for I felt free and little and could dream uninhibited by reality and concrete. In the winter, this house was my favorite because I knew that the hills would always be there waiting for me in springtime, and in the meantime, it was my shelter and gave me refuge to continue to dream and wonder.
Now, in this moment, I feel at once finely in-tune with the younger self of my past. The memories of being snuggled up inside this big old ranch house are not merely re-imagined, but felt. They are a consistently flowing stream that I step into and let wash over me, keeping me connected to the child I once was. The great big, terrifying world of grownup responsibilities is outside these thick walls. Its endless possibilities and wants and disappointments cannot touch me here, sitting beside the hearth, surrounded by my animals.
Suddenly I don’t feel like going out anymore. The hour is almost up and I should be going. But I’m happy to be where I am in this moment and I don’t want to waste the feeling of this warmth, this history, and this love. My grown up years are an inevitability and this storm only a temporary respite. I need to make it last.