A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:
Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Friday, January 14, 2022
It is what I call the blue time of year--even on a gray day the clouds are tinged with blue, as are the snow and the trees. Yesterday the wind blew so hard the tree trunks made animal sounds where they rubbed together. Today is so calm I can hear the traffic on the next road over, a dog barking across the river, the shifting of a board back by the garage. My ice spikes crack and crunch on the glazed driveway, each step a pistol shot. A faint breeze sends the leaves of a young beech shivering, a dry, papery, gothic sound. Otherwise the world is still. The birds and squirrels away to their roosts and nests, the predators awaiting dusk.
The air is cold. Not the bitter, biting cold of earlier in the week, but a damp insipid cold that makes inroads at cuffs and seams, anywhere layers of fabric overlap. Even on a short walk my mind flickers to other places--conversations from earlier in the day, vegetables that need chopping, the evening's plans. I try to yank it back to the blue world. The here and now.
Back at the house, I see the Christmas tree propped against the doorframe and remember that today is January 13, St. Knut's Day, the day Scandinavians take down their trees. I believe they burn theirs in Sweden, but I can't stand the thought and instead we return ours to the woods it came from, where it can be a refuge to small birds and animals.
I lift the tree by its slender trunk and set off through the woods, off piste. In the chiaroscuro of a winter's evening--white snow, black twigs and branches--it's easy to find a pathway among the trees to the field below, where the dried stems of tall white aster stand chest high. I find a trail across the field, the one the boys use to get to their skating rink on the river, the snow trampled and refrozen in icy footprints, and I follow its winding route through the trees. I feel rushed by the lateness of the hour. It will be dark soon, I have places I need to go this evening, things I need to get ready. So I don't take the tree all the way to the river bank, but set it in the snow beside the trail, thank it again for bringing warmth and light and green into our house in the darkest part of the winter, and turn toward home.
My hands are sticky with balsam sap, and I bring them to my face, breathe deeply the scent of solstice and Christmas, family and winter, life and light.
This is a new series, where I plan to write a flash piece (nonfiction for now, but maybe fiction later) every Friday of 2022.
Friday, January 7, 2022
Wednesday, January 5, 2022
We usually celebrate the Winter Solstice with stringing popcorn and cranberry garlands and birdseed ornaments on the spruce tree out front followed a walk into the woods and a small fire on the bank of the Eastern River. Sometimes we take Christmas cookies and a thermos of hot chocolate to enjoy by the fire, and once we had a picnic of cheese pasties. This year, though, the turn from darkening days back toward the light passed with barely a notice in our house. The boys were off on a last-minute shopping adventure and I was on a conference call. Such is the pull of capitalism and obligation that the rhythms of the earth get shunted aside. This is nothing new--back in those hot cocoa and cheese pasty days, we often practiced "Solstice, Observed," as if it were a federal holiday landing inconveniently on the calendar whenever work or a school concert or an ice storm interfered with the actual moment the earth turned back toward the sun.
The arrival of the shortest day of the year, however slight was my notice of it, did clarify for me why I've been so tired lately (other than, you know, the apocalypse); it's the time of year for burrowing, for hibernating, for settling into the subnivian zone with a cache of seeds and avoiding owls. It's not the time to scramble to finish my "21 in '21" list or to endlessly shop to fulfill an open-ended Christmas list. A cashier asked me yesterday if I was "almost done" and I answered truthfully, "I'm never done, I just keep shopping until Christmas." Much of that comes from having teenagers who can't think of a thing they want until a week before Christmas, but the rest I can attribute to an anxiety around not being enough, not "doing it right." Oh, yes, and a slight problem I have with buying myself a present for every two I buy for other people.
When I'm not out single-handedly propping up the economy, I try to get into the holiday spirit by watching cheesy Christmas movies on Netflix. I don't know who got the idea that Christmas was somehow an ideal setting for romance (I suppose Bing Crosby in White Christmas was the first culprit), but it is a thing, and most of the movies in this genre are painfully awful. I did, however, enjoy Holiday in the Wild, in which the protagonist (actress I didn't recognize) goes to Zambia on her second honeymoon--alone, because her husband leaves her the minute their kid heads off to college. (There's a recurring theme in these movies of characters planning elaborate, expensive trips without the buy-in or knowledge of the other person involved; see A Very Brady Christmas.) Once in Africa, she develops an attraction/antagonism for a bush pilot played by Rob Lowe. She ends up working on an elephant preserve and staying through Christmas. As far as the storyline goes, it was almost as cheesy as other holiday romance movies. But there were elephants. And Rob Lowe. And it wasn't the romance that fixed her life, it was the meaning brought to it by doing important and valuable work. It makes me think there's another, better way to do the holidays. Like rescuing orphaned elephants.
But unless tickets for an elaborate and expensive trip to Africa that's been planned without my knowledge appear in my stocking Christmas morning, I don't think baby elephants are in my future. I probably wouldn't be all that good at taking care of them anyway (I have issues with poop). But perhaps there's some other way of turning off the money spigot and finding meaning not only in this season, but in life in general. Maybe I'll start with a "Solstice, Observed" hike into the woods with my family, after the ice storm, were we can sit in the dark and listen to what each other has to say and what the trees have to tell us.
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