18 below zero this morning.
The cold comes at my face like a knife when I take out the wood stove ashes. The early morning is perfectly still, full of sunlight. This is not the songbird season.
I’ve now lived through a few dozen Vermont Januaries, beginning as a young woman when I spent so many January nights walking around beneath the winter sky, amazed at all those stars in the deep country dark. Januaries of nursing babies, of a long driving commute, of sledding and baking bread, and enduring the beginnings of cabin fever’s madness.
Always, there’s the cold that reminds us immediately of our own fragile mortality and an inevitable thaw. By the end of the month, daylight returns in a rush. In these chopped-up days of uncertainty, I remind myself of these constants.
‘We forget about the spaciousness
above the clouds
but it’s up there. The sun’s up there too.‘
~Naomi Shihab Nye
Pea soup with scraps of leftover ham bubbled on our stove all day — a weekday more like a Sunday. Walking through town, I met no one.
At the end of the holiday school break, I head out before dinner to empty the compost pail in the bin. Amazingly, the afternoon is light yet, not dim as the afternoons were not long before the holiday. I stand there for a moment, watching wet snowflakes twirl down, the snow and I heedless of any time.
A radiance rises from the snow-covered town cemetery just behind my garden, bright despite the granite stones.
More so than other years, this holiday my daughters and I seemed to have rounded that bend from the divorce. Maybe it’s nothing more than the distance of time and physical space. Maybe it’s simply that time doesn’t cure, but it does scab over. Oddly this season, I kept thinking of Mary Oliver’s line about her box of darkness, and how that, too, was a gift. Maybe that’s part of this whole holiday season, too: that light does, inevitably, come of darkness, always.
Happy wishes for another decade of living: 2020.
Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
— Mary Oliver
Our kitchen was forty-two degrees this morning. I leaned over the range and chipped a ridge in ice along the bottom of the window, and thought this is getting a little ridiculous. And I forgotten cream for the coffee. Often, in these morning – no Biblical scholar, not even a church-goer – I think of Jonah in the belly of his whale.
But then, home again from a basketball game, the wind blowing snow in our faces, my older daughter sang out, You can tell the light’s coming back!
Indeed. Through translucent clouds, the day was yet bright, the moon a glowing gem tucked above the bare branches of maple trees. After a frozen day, the end was such a lovely place, with traces of snow falling, the white all around pure and white, and the light familiar and beckoning as that long-off spring.
...Winter is for women ----
The woman, still at her knitting,
At the cradle of Spanis walnut,
Her body a bulb in the cold and too dumb to think.
Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas
Succeed in banking their fires
To enter another year?
What will they taste of, the Christmas roses?
The bees are flying. They taste the spring.
– Sylvia Plath, "Wintering"
Photo by Molly S./North Bennington, Vermont
January’s always cold in Vermont. Sure, we may have a few thaws here and there, but generally, January is dependably cold, in any number of permutations. Today, conserving my less-than-ample woodpile, I opted to work at the public library. While the library’s not heated with wood, the building appeared to be metering its fuel, too; the radiators were stone cold all the hours I was there. The other library-goers and I all wore hats, many of us coats, and by mid-afternoon I had pulled the sleeves of my sweater over my palms.
My fellow Vermonters are hearty and generally good-natured. When I packed up my work, an older woman at the table beside me – wearing a well-knit hat – laughed when I raised my eyebrows. Sunny and clear; 3 degrees above zero; a bit crisp.
Most religions turn their adherents toward the things we are afraid to face: mortality, death, illness, loss, uncertainty, suffering – to the ways that life is always something of a disaster. Thus religion can be regarded as disaster preparedness – equipment not only to survive but to do so with equanimity and respond with calmness and altruism to the disaster of everyday life. Many religious practices also emphasize the importance of recognizing the connectedness of all things and the deep ties we all have to communities…..
– Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell
Snow came recently to our small part of the world. As the year turns around again, this quiet time seems right for pausing, for a reckoning up of last year’s affairs, and what might come for the future. Perhaps, most of all, it seems the right time to cup our hands full of prayers, in gratitude – and the desire to keep full of gratitude.
On New Year’s Day
Bless this my house under the pitch pines
where the cardinal flashes and the kestrels hover
crying, where I live and work with my lover
Woody and my cats, where the birds gather
in winter to be fed and the squirrel dines
from the squirrel-proof feeder. Keep our water
bubbling up clear. Protect us from the fire’s
long teeth and the lashing of the hurricanes
and the government. Please, no foreign wars.
Keep this house from termites and the bane
of quarreling past what can be sweetly healed.
Keep our cats from hunters and savage dogs.
Watch with care over Woody splitting logs
and mostly keep us from our sharpening fear
as we skate over the ice of the new year.