When I first saw my turn in the rotating schedule for writing this column would fall on New Year’s Eve, my mind jumped to a list of adventurous and mostly sarcastic outdoor activities I could participate in to ring in 2021.
How best to close the book on a year like 2020? Climb to the top of a mountain and let out a guttural scream? Conduct a good-vibes-only seance under the full moon? A nice, normal ski with friends at one of the Homer area’s many trail systems? Or hike out to a remote cabin with nothing but a satellite phone and a pint of whiskey?
While the events of this year had me leaning heavily toward the cabin idea, I didn’t end up having time for any major or exciting adventure in the days leading up to the end of the year. The last week and a half was spent in my hometown in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (with several days allotted just to get there and back). Save for a particularly chilly walk around Presque Ilse Park, a small peninsula that juts out into Lake Superior, there really wasn’t much recreation going on between the holiday films, family time, the myriad Christmas meals and the Jeopardy rerun marathons.
I did find time on the tail end of my vacation — back in Alaska — to visit a new scenic spot. My boyfriend and I took a detour to Eklutna Lake on a quiet, overcast Monday. As it’s winter, only a handful of other people were occupying the main beachfront at the same time as us, so we got to enjoy a simple walk around the lake’s edge and back along the trail.
Though I much prefer summer hiking, winter in Alaska provides some of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen. There’s a different feel to the lakes, mountains and trails when they’re in winter’s embrace — the air almost seems to vibrate at a different frequency. Hoarfrost, icicles, snow-drenched trees — my eyes live for it all.
Cloaked in an icy fog, the lake felt peaceful, even though we could see evidence of its ongoing thawing and refreezing process. The crack of ice under our boots, the trickle of water through the snow on the lake’s edge, and the surrounding mountains that looked almost weighed down by the brilliant white blankets on top of them made for a picturesque and peaceful afternoon after a day of flights and layovers.
In the end, a quiet walk turned out to be the best way to end the year. “Not with a bang,” and all that.
I won’t be skiing down a mountainside, or making a many mile trek, or summoning spirits on the cusp of the new year. I’ll be gathering with the friends in my small social bubble for a meal and to exchange some gifts. All right, fine — I might bring some sage. I figure if we all burn a small amount of sage at the same time on New Year’s Eve, we can collectively smudge out at least some of the disaster that was this year.
All jokes aside, this last month had got me thinking about how we move on from here. The vaccine is on its way to becoming available for more people. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, glowing warm and welcoming.
But how do we reconcile the cost of this year in our mental and emotional checkbooks? How to account for the loss — the loss so deep and profound it feels hard to quantify, even though we have the numbers? How do we process the sacrifices, the hard decisions, the mistakes and the disappointments of this year as we move into a new one?
I certainly haven’t found that answer yet, but walking around a frozen lake seems to help.
This year, as it did for me, may have also caused some to take stock of their lives and the people in it. Visiting my parents is always a reminder of just how far away they are. The thought of one of them contracting COVID-19 while thousands of miles away is terrifying enough, but this year also made me think about the future in a way I must confess I hadn’t before. I wonder whether I’m connecting enough with the people who matter to me, whether I’m making the most of the moments I have. How many more trips home like that do I have with my parents?
If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that most of us probably aren’t making the most of every phone call, every visit home, every year we have. Should it take a pandemic to remind us to do that? Certainly not. Did this year restart my longing for connection and the need to nurture the social safety net of family and friends that I have? Certainly yes.
I think maybe one of the only resolutions we need going into the new year is this: connect. With your parents, with your significant other, with your friends. Connect with the outdoors, connect with your food, connect with your passions and your needs.
2020 was many things to many people. A lot of it was dark. A lot of it was beautiful, too. Sort of like a fog-covered lake on a late winter afternoon in Alaska.