This morning I woke up in bed next to my husband, the big dog stretched out on the far side of his body, the little dog curled in the hollow behind my knees, the young cat slotted into the narrow gap between our bodies, and the old cat in her position of choice on the upper most corner of the bed next to my pillow. It is a strange comfort to know that our oldest pet stands watch over my head as I sleep, that of all the soft and warm places to choose from among the tangle of bodies and fur and hair and blankets, she folds herself up on that corner of bare sheet and waits for us to get up. In this season of taking stock and counting our blessings, mornings like this, when my whole family sleeps together in the early morning dark, I find myself quietly grateful.
That sentinel cat is twelve years old, and I remember this because she was a kitten the year we had our first Friends Thanksgiving. I had a vision of hosting all of my friends at my home to share a Thanksgiving meal with, and that year I crammed nearly 20 college kids and recent graduates, adults and a new born baby around borrowed tables and folding chairs in my childhood living room. We feasted on turkey and fellowship and the novelty of doing something so adult. We didn’t know it but we were beginning the transition to the next phase of our lives, pairing up, leaving the safety net of the university for the big world beyond. In the twelve years since that first gathering, we’ve scattered, chasing dreams and adventure and mountains and snow. I mean this in a literal sense, we were all outdoor educators when we were in school together, some of us still work in the field professionally, and we all maintain a deep connection to moving our bodies outside in whatever modality we like in whichever beautiful place make us happiest.
Two weekends ago we gathered for the 12th time to share a traditional Thanksgiving meal together. Since we have spread out into our own geographic niches, the location changes year to year, bouncing around northern New England, this year we came together in western New Hampshire, just over the hill from Franconia Notch. Some things have changed from that first gathering, there are lot more kids now-nine kids aged eight to one. Thankfully most of them are old enough to be sent to the basement to do their running and screaming down there (it was a nice dry warm basement with lots of toys and work out mats—it was safe and humane, don’t worry). When they were done in the basement they were sent outside to go sledding (and screaming and running) on the light snow and frozen grass of the back yard. When they were done with all that, we would gather on the couch in a small child pig pile to hear yet another reading of the Paper Bag Princess, or snuggle in the indoor hammock for some quiet time. My friends’ children add a layer of fun and delight (and noise) to our friendship. It is a special role to be an non parent adult in a child’s life, and I am thankful that my friends are so generous and encourage these unique relationships.
Some things haven’t changed, we all still run, and it was with great pleasure that I joined my friends for a few snowy miles in the New Hampshire woods. This fall has not been the easiest one for me, for no interesting reason, just work load and time mismanagement issues. One of the things that fell away first was running. By mid October I was actually sort of tapering for an early November race (the culmination of the running season for me, more on that later), and I took my taper pretty seriously (as in, I basically stopped running). Because of hunting season November is never an easy time to be a trail runner in Maine, unless you live by a national park or other no hunting zone. The local trails I run are decidedly hunting areas, so I avoid them during November, which means that I either run roads at work, or I don’t run. On top of hunting season, I got a nasty cold, its that sticky one that stays around for weeks, ping ponging back and forth between chest and sinuses, so I have been laying low. And of course, the early November blizzard and all the trees that came down across the trails as a result really made a mess of the woods. All of that on top of simple periodization issues—my body needs a break—gives me many reasons to stay out of the woods.
Likewise, when I run here I almost always run alone, not by choice necessarily, mostly by logistical realities (I’m working on that). So the chance to run with some of the best people I know is not to be missed. Easy hour long jogs on twisting mountain bike trails and dirt roads were just the tonic I needed. I went into that weekend feeling thick and foggy in the head, and by the end I felt like I remembered who I was again. I needed them to hold up a mirror and remind me who I am, what is important, what I like, what I value. I think that is what friends are for, they are your friends because you share values, and when you lose you way, its to them you can turn to get back on track. It need not be a big intervention. Just a run on a snowy path, a moment of conversation in the kitchen, or a round of Cards Against Humanity (yes, even though we are all really good people, this game demonstrates that we are all really bad people too).
We had “real” Thanksgiving yesterday at my mother’s house, following a second November snowstorm. My niece and nephew took the opportunity to try out their new cross country skis in the yard. My friends remind me who my best self is, and my niece and nephew constantly challenge me to be that person. With the winter ahead I am thankful that it will be full of skiing and sledding and playing with them, feeding the birds and watching the sky. I am blessed, truly.