If you were able to 'be a fly on the wall' of how my family celebrates Christmas, you might think us crazy. From the 13 foot tall tree that needs to have at least seven branches (one year a tree with five was brought in and was rejected), to the process of opening gifts taking several hours since we go around in a circle, opening one gift at a time.
This year in particular was even stranger for two reasons; 1) both my father and Hubi were working on Christmas day and 2) my mom's folks couldn't come up this year. This meant that my folks, sister, Hubi, and I traveled down to Maryland on the 26th to spend good time with family, eat more than we should, and open gifts.
Since Pop Pop and Granddaddy's (Mom's mom and dad respectively) language of love is gift giving, each year they ask for a list of gift ideas. You might think this 'takes the fun out of Christmas.' But on the contrary these lists are due before Halloween, so by the time we opened them on Boxing day this year I had completely forgotten what was on that list and was ecstatic! Think of it as shopping with the family in the comfort of the living room.
This, along with our tradition of opening only one gift at a time, lets conversations about each thing pop up so we get a peek into the lives of the whole family. Explaining the books about environmental education was a peek into my professional life. The Hearthstone stein was a look into how I will never fully be an adult.
After a full, fun day in Maryland my folks, sister, Hubi, and I opened our stockings with my dad's folks in Pittsburgh (along with opening some gifts that we were just exchanging between ourselves). At this point I have become somewhat of an expert in identifying the type of object in wrapping paper. "This is a clothes box." "Oh, this one for sure is a mug based off of weight and size."
Even though they have started to try to trick me (place multiple gifts in one package), I was very surprised to feel a picture frame in wrapping. I saved it as the last thing to open, and just before that Mom had said "oh it's just a little thing."
I didn't have the words for it then, but three thoughts immediately spiraled in my mind upon seeing this:
- This is a phrase my professor at the North Cascades Institute uses in an activity of us calling back to the mountains at the end of our week long intensive wilderness seminars. My 18th month journey through grad school is coming to an end and I know he is going to lead us through that after the graduation ceremony. My west coast family after that point will never be as strong, or as close, because we are destined to find our own places to teach and learn. That time is almost upon me.
- Even though I have lived in the heart of some of the most beautiful mountains in the world, the mountains of the North Cascades are not the mountains that are calling me. Since I started back in July 2015 I have been thinking of the mountains in New England. Some in my cohort are being called by the oceans, or deserts, cityscapes. But for some reason the mountains of the NE call me more than those of the PNW. Beginning in May I will finally be living in a place of my own choosing for more than a year or two. I finally can fully be present in place based education and learning.
- My mother worries when I leave the house to go grocery shopping, so four day long solo hikes in the wilderness make her terrified. But she has never stopped me from pursuing my dreams. With this little gift, she is again saying implicitly for me to go where I'm called, even if it worries her.
Because these three thoughts spiraled around me with such intensity, instantly, without any warning, I started to cry. I am not one to get emotional but in that moment I cried just as much as my mother.
Three more months left of the chapter of my life titled "Nomad." I have studied on the hills of NW Pennsylvania, taught in the shadows of the skyscrapers of Manchester, and lived in the watershed of the Skagit. I have met the most amazing people, and have been lucky enough to create magnificent stories with them.
But a new chapter is about to begin. I don't know the title yet, or what characters will be in it, but I do know I'll be amongst the mountains that have been calling me.