It’s been almost two weeks since we returned home from Christmas Up North, and yet it hasn’t felt like anything resembling a regular schedule these days. Between the snow storms and the cancellations and the shifts from moist and foggy to breathtakingly clear and bitter cold, nothing feels orderly, or regular. And since my beloved has been spending his time upstairs, editing a pile of case studies that have been hanging over his head for months, and since our eldest has a birthday just a week after New Year’s Eve, which always takes me by surprise, and given that certain schools don’t require their undergrads to attend classes until January is practically over with…let’s just say, the number of times I’ve had to come up with a creative answer to the “What’s for dinner?” question has been higher than usual, for longer than expected. It’s the flip side of the empty nest syndrome: I’d forgotten that four people can make a gallon of milk disappear in two days, and that last night’s leftovers don’t always stretch into a second meal, when there’s more than two mouths to feed. Fancy that!
But despite the lack of normalcy in our days, what has returned, right along with the changing phases of the moon, have been those universal signs of the seasonal shift, of time marching on as a new year dawns. Those incremental extra minutes of daylight, for starters–just enough to make you notice, somewhere around 5PM, hey, look, two weeks after the solstice, and it isn’t pitch black dark out! Then there’s the fractional upward shift that the sun makes as it arcs across the sky, from skulking along the horizon to heading ever so slightly higher above the treeline. Together the added minutes and extra amplitude combine to make for a glorious gift of just a little more light, every single day. I love that first awareness of forward progress, away from the darkness. I love the sense of the sun is visibly reaching up, aiming to relieve us from the chill of December, just that little bit more, every single day.
Okay, there’s also been the shift from thaw to deep freeze and back again, to a weather front that turned the earth brittle with cold, and the wind whippy and raw. But that’s what happens around here in January—freezes and melts and then more snow. You might not be able to predict those shifts, but the phases of the moon, seeming to wax from crescent to quarter to full before a week has passed–those phases hit their marks, whatever the weather might be up to, no matter what the academic calendar says. My family’s spring semester may be a few weeks off still, but winter has turned a corner, already.
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The thing that I’d missed most since the holidays was my regularly scheduled perambulations, and the check-ins with mother nature that these outings elicit. It took a trip to the reservoir on the coldest day of the year to get me back to my beloved routine of meandering, listening, letting my mind wander, giving over to my cathedral of solace. Truth be told, I barely raise my pulse when I walk these days, what with watching out for ice and checking for birds of prey, hoping for more peregrine falcon sightings. The competitive athlete I used to be has made peace with the mental health bonus of these outings, even when the aerobic benefits are nil. It works for me, to know that fresh air is its own treasure, even when I don’t break a sweat. That’s what the stationary bike is for in January, right?
Here’s a little bit of what I bumped into, on my first tours de Fresh Pond of 2014:
First off, the loop around the reservoir always seems longer in the wintertime, when the leaves are gone. No hiding the distance behind the greenery. What looks like open water here is just the part that got scoured in the wind. It’s all iced over. No more flocks of any waterfowl these days.
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The arctic cold has subsided, for now. There’s a warm spell headed our way. It’ll snow again later, I’ll be spreading salt and shoveling before long. But no matter what else happens, that moon keeps heading towards fullness, and back away again. The sun rides a higher arc, until it doesn’t. Together, the forces of nature are pointing me back to normal, back to a rhythm that follows the seasons.