The house in the northwestern most corner of Germany is almost 200 years old. Its thatched roof sits on thick stone walls like a great pelt; the fireplace room used to be a stable. The hallways and rooms are filled with things that have passed: births and deaths and everything that happens in between – the wakefulness and the sleeping, the loving and the crying, the eating and the cleaning. The kitchen is the center of the home. In this laboratory of daily alchemy, women transform greens and grains, butter and eggs, spices and oils into the meals that nourish those who live here and those who visit.
During the week of Christmas, the house sheltered three generations of my family, including my parents and my daughters. Eleven people in all, not counting the in-utero newcomer that was hiccuping and stretching in my niece’s belly. Every morning, my sister and I made an opulent German breakfast and in the evening, a small group gathered in the kitchen to prepare multi-course dinners. Those who didn’t cook cleaned up. We ate sitting around a large table in the fireplace room where horses and cows once munched hay. The Christmas tree stood nearby, adorned with glass birds and orbs, chocolate stars and red wax candles,
Before the visitors arrived, I retrieved the holiday decorations from the attic. I don’t go up there often because it’s cumbersome: I have to find the long steel rod that opens the small hatch in the hallway ceiling. Then I have to pull down a folded ladder and climb up a dozen skinny steps into the space that’s shaped like an oversized pup tent. I’m sure the ghosts of the house live up there and I don’t like disturbing them. But I had to get the box of Christmas ornaments.
When I pulled the hatch, cold air dropped onto my upturned face. I climbed the steps, poked my head through the opening and reached up to switch on the light. There was the almost imperceptible scratch of critters scurrying out of sight: spiders and earwigs and, of course, the house spirits. They are notoriously shy.
I saw an elaborate landscape of silvery threads suspended from the sloping underside of the roof thatch. Entwined filaments hung from the old wooden beams, covering the bare light bulb like a veil. Spider webs dangled next to these matted strands as marvels of geometry. The warm air rising through the open hatch created a draft and this breath of air initiated an ephemeral motion in the fibrous tangles, a collective quiver. I was more intrigued than repulsed by this evidence of life lived in the recesses of the house and I crawled low towards the box so I wouldn’t disturb the attic installation. It wasn’t the right time for cleaning things up, I would do that in the long days of summer.
Later, when I took the fragile ornaments from the box and unwrapped them one by one, I wondered if my mind is like the attic – a space filled with a delicate and tenacious mass of fiber, spun and woven over many years. Surely, it contains the fine threads of my experiences, the strands of my thoughts and the wispy webs of my ideas. Without wind and movement, without an occasional sorting and broom-sweep, the strands will felt themselves into sticky cob webs that make it impossible to see the aliveness of the world, the opportunities inside the challenges. My mind, like the attic, requires light and air.
I enjoy tending and nurturing the delicate weavings of my thoughts and memories. And I am also determined to keep clearing the cobwebs.
Happy New Year!