The month of December has been a roller coaster of emotion for many in our little town of Clinton. With the recent ice storm we learned what it feels like to go without heat or hot water, phones, computers, television, and the ability to cook food. Some were in the dark for twelve hours, some for two days. But for many it was three to five days of total nothingness.

Waiting for the power to come back on felt like being stuck in purgatory. I thought, “I'm a tough country girl, I can handle this!” But by day three, hope and waiting turned to despair. By day four, I was beside myself. All those nights were sleepless, as I sat on a hassock in a hooded sweatshirt, rocking in front of an inefficient wood stove that needed to be refilled every hour. Still I was happy to have it and proud of myself that I had a good amount of wood stacked for the winter. And, I always keep extra water put up for such occasions. But in the rest of the cabin I could see my breath. My plants died.

I stayed home for fear of the pipes freezing. Without electricity, the absence of the hum of energy was eerie. I played solitaire by flashlight. I played my mountain dulcimer. The animals were restless. They looked to me as if to say, “What's happening here/what's wrong with you?!” I was suffering from exhaustion, sheer boredom, and, yes, loneliness. I think I now know what cabin fever is. Imagine the pioneers snowed in for the winter! What they must have gone through!

Alone and in the dark, I had nothing to do but think. Think about what it means to suffer, to go without. Think about what the folks went thought after Hurricane Katrina. I thought about all the events of the past year, how I faced homelessness and joblessness, with no place to go. Things seemed hopeless.

It has indeed been my delight and pleasure to write about the flora and fauna that abound in our backyards over the past year. Just yesterday, from my writing desk, something caught my eye: an owl preening itself in a pine tree across the road. Seconds later to my right, another sighting. I thought, “Wow that's a pretty big orange cat there in the woods behind the house. What a fluffy tail!” Then it became clear that it was no cat, but a fox! It was a fluffy, healthy fox of good size, golden blonde in color. It was followed by another fox that had black on the tip of its tail. The two romped and played and tumbled over each other. I felt privileged to observe them in their own world. All this I saw without moving from my chair. No need to walk in the woods. I had not seen a fox in this area since I have lived in Clinton.

And last night we were awakened by the screeches of a bobcat right outside the bedroom window. My cat went flying from the bed, and the dog set to barking. Indeed I have been blessed with the miracles of nature, and the ability to tell stories. But there is much more that goes on in our backyards here in Clinton than a bird on a feeder, or animal tracks in the snow.

When I faced homelessness, I used to think as I would drive by houses at night with their warm lights on, how blessed those folks were to have homes, family and love. Or notice how nice their house was, or how beautiful their gardens were. Last year I had a beautiful home, a business that I loved, and a sense of family. All that changed in what seemed like minutes. I had no idea where I would go, or how I would survive. I envied those other homes that seemed to have it all.

Having lived in Clinton for all these years, I used to be dismayed at not having a sense of community or girlfriends nearby. Then, when it came down to the wire, and I had to face the reality of leaving Clinton, I realized it is the only place I have ever lived that has felt like home. During my moving sale, I finally started meeting many more of my neighbors. They commented on how beautiful I kept the house, or how nice my gardens were. Some said, “Don't leave!” How nice it was to have somebody care enough about me not to want me to move away. I had no idea!

Folks bought my lifetime of treasured belongings and family heirlooms. They then invited me to their homes for meals and to visit my familiar objects. One couple came and helped me move the furniture I planned to keep and even offered to store it free of charge. Another couple helped arrange the furniture into place. And a third couple came on my last day in the house to haul off everything left over to the Salvation Army. “Gosh,” my friend Mark said, “this house has absolutely no soul. Pat, it was all you!” I sighed and we went out the door. I left the key hanging inside.

I was looking at sleeping in my car, or in someone's camper in their backyard. There was also the option of a garden shed to sleep in. With the loss of my home business, no funds for a security deposit, and the fact that most places don't accept pets, I was truly stripped down to nothing. I never imagined it could happen to me. Not me!

A woman nearby in town called to tell me she would not let me be homeless and we would work something out. I could work off part of my rent, gardening, tending chickens, and doing anything else needing to be done. It is all work that I love to do. I always said that when I come in at the end of the day, with dirt under my fingernails, it means I had a good day outside.

Someone else came forward and offered to foster my dog until I got settled. Another sent me a plane ticket to New Mexico to get out of town and consider another possible, but totally different life out west. Still, another individual came and introduced herself and gave me a housewarming present of a basket of chrysanthemums. Ladies that power walk every day, have invited me to join them. I was on the prayer lists at local churches. I had someone I barely knew treat me to breakfast at the Schultzville General Store. I've been invited to cookie swaps and pie and praise in someone's lovely home. I even had an entire Thanksgiving meal donated so that I would have some sense of “holiday.” And folks have been looking out for me in the way of work. I have now been able to re-establish my massage practice, despite a dismal economy.

I am truly overwhelmed by the generosity of a community that I thought never existed here. All these folks came forward to help with smiles and true generosity. I now have the hope and strength to face tomorrow. In the dark as I watched reflections of a candle on the ceiling I thought of all these fine people, and counted my blessings.

One never knows what goes on in homes that they envy. Nobody has a perfect life. A sick child, the death of a husband, a son in the military, the loss of a job, home foreclosure, adultery, divorce, and jail are all common problems in society these days. Imagine that you, along with everyone else, were asked to write your particular life problem on a card, then spread the cards across the table, and pick up another card. Believe me, you'd still pick your own!

During the power outage, as the hours turned into days, we sought answers and the company of others. We all eventually converged at the Schultzville General Store, where Gary and Lynn had plenty of hot coffee for all. We were guaranteed to see someone we knew there. We all commiserated over our plight. This is the place to be for a sense of community.

In this age of gluttonous consumerism, I realized in dismantling my home that I had accumulated far too much stuff. I don't need another book, CD, dish, or vase. I cast most of it off. The things in life that are important are the simple things: the crackling fire, the clicking of knitting needles, the purr of a cat, the warmth of a hug, and a good neighbor. We need not fret over not having enough to spend on each other this holiday season. The company of friends and family, and the selfless giving to those in need are what will hold us together. We just don't need any more stuff!

Having learned that there are angels among us in the town of Clinton, I do consider it the home of my heart. I have an abbreviation that will be on my headstone one day: CHMP -- Clinton Hollow, My Paradise!

How ironic that as I close, that bobcat is at it again just out back. May the light and love of the holidays and a better new year be yours.

Pat Laine is a 9 year resident of Clinton. She owns and operates Little Creek Therapeutic Massage. She shares her home with her Maine Coon cat and collie dog. Whether walking in the woods, or along Little Wappingers Creek and its environs, she observes the miracles of wildlife and plant life on a daily basis.

Miss the previous months' contributions to IN OUR BACKYARD?

Here is November
Here is October

Here is September
Here is August

Here is July

Here is June

Here is May
Here is April
Here is March
Here is February
Here is January
Here is December