Thursday, December 22, 2011

Home for Christmas

These short days have a way of creeping away from me. I'll work for what feels like an hour, look up at the clock and realize it's 3 p.m. and if I don't get outside right now I won't get a ride in at all. Headlights I have, but you can only do so much with trail closures, traffic, and headlights. I'll throw some kind of mixed winter/summer ensemble on my body on and hope it's warm enough. The sun is usually already slipping behind the mountains by the time I race out the door.

Daylight is tight, but I can't really complain about being able to road bike in December. I can move faster in this cooler air. And even though the pavement is just as dry as summer, and the sky just as clear as ever, there's something quieter ... more contemplative ... about these early winter evenings, even in California. Or maybe that's just a vestige of the winters I spent in colder climates — an expectation that there has to be a time when everything quiets down.

I struggled with the decision about whether or not to return to Utah for the holidays. I've been lucky enough to enjoy several opportunities to go home in the past year. I was just there last month. As my family grows older and more dispersed, we've shed many of our former expectations in favor of more open-ended traditions. My large extended family still gathers in my grandmother's church building for a quirky celebration of summer food (fried chicken and potato salad) and a talent show by the grandchildren, a tradition that has shifted to the great-grandchildren. There is that. But my immediate family has been more open to the year-round welcoming of togetherness, without an implied demand that it has to take place on or around December 25. Of course, they wanted me to come home for Christmas. And I wanted to be home. But home isn't as much of a clear-cut proposition for me these days.

Beat had an extended work holiday and asked me where I wanted to spend the last week of December. In my heart I wanted to go home, but this desire didn't reach for the home of my childhood. Of course guilt crept in, and my mind rushed forward with justifications. Beat has a potentially dangerous adventure race coming up and needs to train in real-world conditions. I wouldn't mind getting in some snow miles for the Susitna 100 since my California training will definitely be lacking in this regard. Good friends invited us to to join them on a tempting range of adventures, from a weekly Thursday night "epic" run, to a multi-night trek from sea level into the shadow of the Alaska Range. That last proposal left my heart buzzing with anticipation. Back out there. Really out there. Alaska.

Just before the plane touched down in Anchorage, Beat and I watched the sun set over the frozen swamps of the Susitna Valley. The last strips of orange light gave way to the longest night of the year — nearly 19 hours of darkness in this part of the world. I would miss my family, and the forecast 70-degree Christmas weekend in California. But an electric sort of warmth filled my heart, because I was coming home.

10 comments:

  1. Merry Christmas to you!!!!

    An awesome photograph!

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  2. Jill - Just wanted to say that, probably a credit to your writing style and passion for what you do, you actually make me feel a bit of envy over your trip to Alaska. And I'm an east coaster who hates cold weather! Your pics and descriptions just add an otherwordly element to a place I'd never think I want to spend a lot of time in. Nice job!

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  3. Anonymous6:51 AM

    welcome back...

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  4. Jackie6:52 AM

    Sounds like you've gone home in your heart. You have beat there with you too. I'm happy for you Jill. That picture of the mountains is amazing.

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  5. Good for you, guys. Enjoy. Fully.

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  6. Few things bring me to cheering at my monitor but the prospect of reading about you in Alaska again does it for me. Merry Christmas, looking forward to the rest of the story.

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  7. Welcome home, Jill.

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  8. Welcome home and happy holidays!

    As always, thanks for writing! I savor every post!

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  9. Anonymous3:19 PM

    Just want to say I anticipate your every post, and want to wish you and Beat an amazing Christmas adventure.
    Naomi

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  10. Anonymous6:23 PM

    They say home is where the heart is, but sometimes your heart lies neither at a physical home, nor with your family. I'm envious. Enjoy!

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