I used to love a good winter hunker: curled up in a great armchair like Alice, but with a book rather than a ball of wool, tea and toast at hand, and in latter days, the fireplace channel roaring gaily on the TV.
Hunkering was easier and could be continued almost indefinitely when I was younger and my spine was bendier. But there are compensations that come with age: I can read much more quickly, so while my hunkers may be brief, they are full and rich; and I am almost always accompanied by a purring cat, which is about as comfortable and soothing as it gets.
There are varieties of hunkering down, of course, not all pleasant: my people down east recently spent several days literally snowed into their houses. I like to imagine that being jailed by a rough and unpredictable climate can be cozy, as long as it doesn’t last very long, but that’s probably naive. (Funny that, having grown up down east, I don’t actually know; the weather gods seem to have lost their minds, either in celebration or grief, after I left.) We are not, as a species, very good at being bandied about by the mysterious agendas and timetables of outside forces.
With today as an exception (it is damn cold out there), most of the hunkering I’ve done this winter has been by choice; the season has been surprisingly mild and dry and this Saturday, it’s looking like there’ll be full, glorious cycling weather again.
This morning, I alternated lazily between chasing down some work and musing on what it means to relax at home; I listened with mild (too mild, really) concern to some beastie trying to burrow its way into our roof; I watched various birds, including one very fat blue jay, hanging out on the barren branches of the tree in our backyard; I gave myself a little break from the news which, these days, is almost never good, although I did note with pleasure only slightly tinged with trepidation (he’s been working on it at least 10 years) that Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust will finally begin to be published in October.
Generally, the news these days is antithetical to all comfort, especially mental and spiritual, and can induce only the desire to hunker down in a sealed bunker (and, apparently, the tendency to create demented Dr Seuss-esque rhymes). I’ve gotten to the point that I can’t even look at “POTUS”‘s face without being almost overwhelmed by revulsion; this means I can only read, not watch, the news and then only where there are no attached photos. This might be a blessing in disguise. The news, in doses, is manageable; striking a balance between remaining a global citizen and not falling prey to total despair will perhaps be easier this way.
Hunkering down, in the jolly way I mean it today, is really about having a home you’re always happy to come home to. My first taste of that was in an apartment I shared with another student in Halifax; she brought a perfect reading chair with her, which was placed sagaciously next to a window that was in turn next to a huge tree outside. I remember reading entire novels there, often in basically one sitting, as leafy shadows gamboled about me.
While my quest for a perfect middle-age chair is ongoing, my current home is otherwise everything I want. I thrive here because between all the workaday tasks associated with being an adult, it is both proper and safe to dawdle and bask and joke and be silly in my home. There are fine vittles to be made and enjoyed. There is an electric blanket and fluffy couch cushions. There are six overflowing bookcases and, I suspect, more to come eventually.
The troubles of the last year have sharpened my sense of how little, but how much that little is worth, I need to be truly happy: the shelter of home and heart shared with my husband and our menagerie; nourishing food, physical and mental; enough sleep to get by on. The ambitions of my youth seem laudable but very far away right now; and yet, I wager that 20-year-old me couldn’t imagine the contentment I’ve come to hold close every day. I’m increasingly interested, rather than afraid of, what the years will bring.
Which is not to say I am not afraid; far from it. I don’t know how long any of this will last; the world seems very wobbly on its pegs these days. But I will hunker down comfortably when and while I can, and that will surely be enough, at least right now.