This commentary previously ran on AOL News and is being republished here.
At sunset every New Year’s, we make a bonfire at Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown. The crazy curve of the Cape affords a disorienting western view of sunset over water. And it has always been my contention that Provincetown, on the tip of Cape Cod, MA is so far east, it is actually in a different time zone. The sun sets at four pm.
In the wan three pm light we drive to the beach with wood gleaned from the rump ends of friend’s precious woodpiles. Some pieces still crawl with gray roly poly potato bugs. We stand on the shoreline, guestimate the high tide line and dig a fire pit.
My secret for building a winter beach fire, especially in the wind, and there is always wind, is more Joan than Jack London. I start with what is known to Manhattanites with fireplaces as deli-wood, i.e. the duraflame log. We pyramid the real logs over the dura-log, cup hands around a Bic lighter and light our chemical yule log. Sue me, Mama Grizzly.
All are welcomed to our blaze. Many come. Bundled against the cold, it’s hard to recognize old friends, summer friends, regulars, first-timers. A couple southern friends sit in their car, heater roaring, grousing about this bizarre northern custom. Just before sunset, they trundle out, polar-fleeced, to join us. One always claims to have seen the emerald flash at sunset.
After sunset, we throw folded pieces of paper into the fire. On each paper we have written what we want to get rid of from the old year. One year, near blizzard winds caught our offerings as they arched to the flames, and then bounced them down the beach like mini-tumbleweeds. One friend gave chase, shouting, “My arrogance!” and finally tackled and trapped her paper. We all admired her effort.
Our ritual of burning things from the old year signals a hope for the new year. We make room for the new. So far, I am not a fan of this century. The first decade, still without a tag name, witnessed a stolen election, a terrorist attack, two wars, a desperate church, a collapsing economy, an historic election, seditious gridlock, obvious racism, teabaggery, and disheartening presidential diffidence.
Thinking about my origamic good riddances, I feel schizoid, much like standing at a bonfire: bright hot front, chilled cold back. This year, on the cusp of our teenage decade and the far edge of our dear country, I am going to make one of those folded paper fortune-teller thingies. You remember cootie-catchers? That way I can load it up and guarantee it will make the fire. Though it’s not good form to tell what you’ve burned, mine are usually the same year to year: fear, loathing, selfishness, impatience, perfectionism. This year I guess I’ll have to add sanctimony. There are going to be good embers this year. Bring marshmallows.