“It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees, their putting up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace. I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”

If that sentence doesn’t evoke one of the most beautiful songs of Canadiana, Joni Mitchell’s River, then my Christmas wish for you is that you listen to it and let this song sink into your heart. It will. Even if you are a Grinch.

It wasn’t meant to be a holiday song, but as the days grow shorter, the nights colder and the season sneaks up on me, this is the song that gently ushers me into the holidays by letting me get my merry melancholy out of the way.

I too wish I had a river that I could skate away on, all by myself, under the shining full moon, with the stars sprinkled across the sky, and the ice sturdy and thick beneath my graceful, gliding skates. And nobody would know where I was for just a little while.

I’d disappear along the ribbon of river in solitude, keeping rhythm with the scraping sound of the blades in steady stride, cold night air filling my lungs, and the rumble of the world far away, like a distant thunderstorm.

I’d move my way through my merry melancholy, with the peace of mind to sort out the little mysteries of everyday life and the bigger mysteries of time. Nobody would realize I’d skated away until I skated back, out of breath but aglow with rosy cheeks and a smile that says, ‘Okay, I’m ready now. Let’s do this. It’s coming on Christmas.’

That’s how I felt sinking into my seat at the River Run Centre last Friday night, for my first live music performance since the world shut down. A dear friend, who surely knew I needed the inspiration, invited me to see Boreal, a trio of the impeccable voices of Katherine Wheatley, Angie Nussey and Tannis Slimmon in beautiful harmony.

Their performance of Songs For the Snowy Season, warmed the auditorium and captivated the audience (masked and seated sporadically) with an intimacy that offered a collective comfort, a reprieve from the wild world, cozy and united in appreciation for the power of art.

This is the gift that live music gives us. I felt myself thaw into the evening. I was in tune with every note. Live music is magic. It just is.

Then Slimmon picked up her guitar and began to sing River, with all the richness of tone and depth of emotion that the song requires. From her first note, I felt that familiar flicker, like a candle in my chest, the burn of memory with the ache of hope. Lyrics I know by heart. Emotions evoked by a story that is not my own, but is known. Homesickness. Regret. Choices. Dreams. December. Heartbreak, the kind that makes you weak enough to stay until you’re strong enough to break it all apart, because you need to skate on, to be alone, to explore what you know life has in store. The scrape of a metal blade on a frozen river.

Canada. Christmas. Home. Exhale.

I left that performance elevated by the power of live music, the joy of harmonies and a renewed reminder that the best gifts are not things, but experiences that ignite that flame in my chest once more, made all the better when shared with a friend.

WriteOut of Her Mind