Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bliss List

Last year for Christmas, our friends gifted us a subscription to Cook's Illustrated magazine. I like the recipes just fine, and the cooking tips are marvelous. If I renew my subscription, however, it will be for the superb editorials by Christopher Kimball, a fellow Vermonter. When the first issue arrived on my doorstep, I opened it to find Kimball's "Bliss List." In the essay, he describes several of the handful of moments of absolute and perfect happiness that he has experienced in his life. That got me to thinking about some of my own blissful moments. I'll include just a couple of those here.

* I am spinning on a hilltop, arms stretched wide in my own imitation of Maria in the opening scenes of “The Sound of Music.” I even sing and laugh out loud, because no one can hear me. With each step I bounce a bit on springy, fragrant tundra. The wind carries my laughter away and blows the hair back from my face. As I spin, I see nothing to suggest human presence–just tundra, mountains, wind and clouds. I know that a short hike down the hill and around the bend will bring me in sight of a float plane and a handful of businessmen playing out their Alaskan fishing adventure. But high above the stream I can neither see the blue of the plane nor hear the occasional voice. For the moment, this corner of the wilderness exists only for me.

* It is early in the year 1978, with South Dakota in the midst of a historic winter. I open my eyes to see nothing but white outside my window. Tugging the blue quilt close around my neck, I wiggle my toes and listen. The wind rattles the window next to my bed, and the branches of the mulberry tree scratch the glass. In the middle of the night the sound would leave me paralyzed with fear, but on a weekday morning it sends a hopeful smile spreading across my face. My mother listens to the radio in the kitchen as she makes breakfast. Over the clatter of plates and pans I hear the announcer begin the school closings. Thankfully, Mother turns up the radio. Near the end of a long list I hear “Yankton Public Schools closed.” No school today! I wait for the call to breakfast and gaze at the snowflakes while I contemplate a day of snowdrifts and hot cocoa.

*  It is the spring of my first year of college. I am on the back of a motorcycle, flying along a back road in southern Idaho. Mark and I chat occasionally on our helmet mics, but mostly we just take in the scene around us. By the time we make it back to Logan, we will probably miss our next class, but today the early spring sunshine in the Rockies seems more important than French verbs or World History. We pass small farms, cows lazily munching new grass, and a large abandoned barn that makes me dream of swinging into bales of hay even though I’ve only read about it and never actually done it. Ours is an easy friendship, comfortable and without the pressure of romance. Mark stands a little apart from the boys I date—neither the straight-laced Mormon that his Merrill heritage would suggest, nor a self-proclaimed rebel, either. He challenges my comfort zone with this motorcycle, and I like that. I lean against the backrest, warm with friendship and the sun on my shoulders.

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