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.