The Morning After

This morning, it’s the wind. What with all the traveling, when I tear myself away from the cobwebs of a night’s dreams, it often takes me a moment to place myself in the waking world. This morning was supposed to be Palo Alto, but the wind? No, the wind only sounds like this coming off the woods and whipping around the gabled roof of the County House. We call it the “County House” because it’s on the “county” side of the farm, about 75 feet outside Port Townsend city limits. It was the only place we could get a permit to build, and has been more my home than not these past three years.

So not Palo Alto, I let myself think as the pieces come to me. Not for want of trying. Yesterday comes back together in a jumble of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And Shuttle Buses and Ferries and a Bit of Walking, too. No, wait – not planes. That was the problem. I spent the morning getting myself to SeaTac and the afternoon trying to get myself back, with an interlude of camping out by the security line waiting for my flight to not get canceled. Never got to the “planes” part.

Not that I have cause to complain – everyone’s trying to get somewhere and so many got caught mid-leap by this storm. A young man sitting next to me on the baggage pallet had been here since the day before, connecting from somewhere in Canada, trying to get to Costa Rica with his family. Airline personnel wheeled carts of boxed water and consciously ironic “in flight” snacks to those of the huddle hordes who weren’t sleeping on their luggage or already chowing down on coin-op food. The spaces past security are lined with outlet-equipped seats and restaurants and chocolate shops and all the other conveniences a stranded traveler might seek. But outside? I’d never before noticed how harsh and sterile the design of the space was for those who had not yet received the blessings of the TSA and been cleared for flight.

But there was a disappointed camaraderie among the waiting. It was obvious, with the freezing rain outside, that the delays and cancellations were no one’s fault, no individual’s whim. That the overwhelmed airline personnel on the floor were doing their best and – with tablets in hand – generally had no more information about what was going on than we did with our legion of smartphones. The announcements came over the public address system at irregular intervals: “Alaska Airlines [inaudible] weather [inaudible] canceled [inaudible].” The only part that was intelligible was the unvarying postscript: “Please contact a booking agent or use our online app to reschedule.” In retrospect, I should have started looking for a Saturday flight as soon as I got to the airport, because by the time I got my phone spun up, the earliest available flight was a usuriously-priced first class seat landing the Monday morning after Christmas.

But again, these were first world problems, and again, I had the least of them. It was clear I wasn’t going to get to California today, but – checking my phone apps – the twice-a-day Dungeness shuttle bus that brought me down here via the ferry was coming around for its second lap in…25 minutes. I bade farewell to my pallet-side companions and wished them luck, swung my bag over my shoulder and trudged down the hall to meet it.

I’ll admit that some of my equanimity evaporated during the long ride home (bus, ferry, walk, car). The bus – oh, let me put a word of praise in for the Dungeness bus folks? Kind, helpful, accommodating, efficient. There are other services out here on the peninsula (cough-Rocket-cough) who always seem to act like they’re doing you a favor by taking your money and giving you a ride. But when the Dungeness bus rolls up and Oscar – somehow it’s always Oscar driving – pops the door open, it’s like he’s seeing an old and treasured friend again after a long absence. I’ve always felt personally cared for when riding Dungeness.

But tucked into the back of the bus, even plied as I was with cookies, chips (“Are you sure? There are Fritos in there…”) and cheerful sympathy (“I know it sounds wrong, but I’m sorry to see you again so soon.”)… it was hard not to let the disappointment seep in.

It was dark by the time I got home, a glance at my watch telling me that it had been roughly 12 hours since I had trod the gravel path outbound to no effect. And there wasn’t much to do once I got there. I’d already set everything in order for my absence. I could repack and optimize – wasn’t going to need to bring that bottle of cider for Christmas dinner, so I could go carry-on.

Pull some leftover latkes out of the fridge and pop them into the toaster. Set the candles up on the counter for the sixth night of Hanukkah and light them. I settled on a forgettable movie and chatting with Devon in a side window, trying to find an earlier flight. Amid the churn of behind the scenes rebookings, a Sunday morning flight popped up long enough for me to pin down. So – put the cider and pear butter back in the bag? No – leave it, and the other gifts that couldn’t go carry-on; keep things as simple as I can.

Then? Then there was nothing left but to set things up for tomorrow and get some sleep. Sure, I’d been sitting on my butt for most of the day, but most of that was time in motion, and “day” had started a bit before 5:00 a.m. Set the woodstove up, wash the dishes, plug all the sundry electronic necessities in to recharge, turn off the lights and lose myself into the press of flannel sheets and a web of inconsequential dreams.

When morning comes, there’s the familiar wind and rain. I can tell from the sound that it wouldn’t be an impediment to travel, not if I had a ticket for today. But the fact of an unexpected day lies ahead in the darkness, a fact I will have to eventually leave this cozy bed to face. Amid my mutterings of inconvenience and the schemes o’ mice and men having “gang aft a-gley,” it comes to me in the snugness of the place that this unexpected day is also a gift. It is not the gift I would have chosen – I would still rather be with Devon and the kids – but it is a gift nonetheless, and one I can either honor or disdain. What was it that Kateen had said about baking? Bread when it’s fair, pies when it’s rainy? Well I do know how to make a pie, and I do have a friend or two in town who would not look askance at me showing my face with one in tow.

Tomorrow, on Christmas morning, I’ll again get up long before dawn and again try to make my way south bearing gifts. I’m sure there’s a good Jewish Santa joke in there somewhere.

But today lies ahead and beckons in the dark, if only I can extract myself from this delicious, warm flannel nest. This – this is why I always set up the woodstove the night before. I grudgingly slip from the sheets and pad barefoot and unseeing across the floor to where my hands find the cold metal box, and the lighter in the hollow at its side. I crouch and open the door, flicking the switch that brings the magic wand, this little miracle of fire, to life. I touch the small circle of light to the crumpled newspaper and latke-greased paper towels beneath the kindling, waiting for it to catch. The flames bloom, the room awakens, and the new day begins.

3 responses to “The Morning After

  1. You have captured the story of many this Holiday. Finding the blessings in the exhaustion of the unexpected. Flannel sheets is something to be thankful for. Hope you make it back to family.

    Liked by 1 person

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